We’ve been getting some mixed messages about Kawhi Leonard’s relationship with the San Antonio Spurs. But Jalen Rose dropped the strongest signal yet Tuesday.
The former NBA player and ESPN analyst appeared on “First Take” to discuss the recent report that Leonard is at odds with the Spurs due to disagreements regarding his rehab from a quad injury. But Rose took things one step further, admitting he’s “hearing” that the two-time All-Star no longer wants to play in San Antonio.
Rose has connections in NBA circles, so this isn’t just some throwaway line. Here’s his interesting explanation for why Leonard wants to play elsewhere:
“(The Spurs have) been unable to attract elite level, All-NBA-caliber free agents to come play with him. … We always talk about players going to join large market teams. … We never say, ‘Who’s going to San Antonio to go play with Kawhi?’
“And here’s why I think players have not done that: The Spurs’ way looks like opportunity dressed in overalls. It looks like work. And people don’t really want that. Players talk about wanting to win and wanting to be a champion, but ultimately they want to do it on their own terms.
“When you go to San Antonio, guess who’s the CEO of that organization? (Head coach) Gregg Popovich. It’s going to be his way.”
That the Spurs, perennial NBA title contenders who have won 50-plus games in every full season since 1997, would have trouble recruiting elite talent seems unfathomable. But Rose has a point: Aside from signing LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015, San Antonio never goes after big names in trades or free agency, instead relying on a strong system and unheralded role players to augment homegrown stars like Leonard.
While that system has worked brilliantly for two decades, it finally might backfire if Leonard, who can opt out of his contract after the 2018-19 season, demands a trade from San Antonio.
Thumbnail photo via Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports Images