Today, Kawhi Leonard is regarded as one of the top players in the game — but it wasn’t always that way.
Coming out of San Diego State, he was drafted 15th overall by the Pacers before he was promptly traded to the Spurs. It would be four full seasons before Kawhi would make his first All-Star team and, even then, he wasn’t nearly the player he is now.
In a revealing talk to the media, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich echoed the mystery involving the development of stars, and noted the work ethic Kawhi practiced to become an All-NBA talent.
“When we drafted him, we didn’t know he was going to be Kawhi Leonard, just like we didn’t know Manu would be Manu. Anyone who says that is full of crap. You never know how a player will develop. From the get go, Kawhi had a work ethic that was exemplary.”
Spurs’ Gregg Popovich on player development: pic.twitter.com/0Wd0p1HXQx
— Fadeaway World (@FadeawayWorld) November 1, 2019
Of course, we know how the story goes. Kawhi was an important piece of the Spurs’ most recent Championship. He won Finals MVP in 2014 and was supposed to be the face of the Spurs franchise after spending years in the limelight of Tim Duncan and the “Big 3.”
Eventually, the relationship between Leonard and the Spurs fell apart, and he forced his way out in dramatic fashion. The following season, he won led the Raptors to their first-ever NBA Championship, and many expect him to do the same with the Clippers this season. No doubt, his dedication and work ethic have played a role in all that success.
The Spurs have to be kicking themselves for letting things fall apart the way they did.