Thursday marked another NBA Draft. But in San Antonio, attention remains fixed squarely on whether the Spurs can repair their relationship with disgruntled star forward Kawhi Leonard.
General manager R.C. Buford expressed his hope that the Spurs will be able to do just that, telling reporters their goal is to keep the two-time All-Star in San Antonio "for a long time" despite his reported desire to play elsewhere.
Leonard has requested a trade from San Antonio because he is unhappy after missing most of last season with a right quadriceps injury. Buford would not comment on “speculation” of a trade demand, but agreed there is a fractured relationship between Leonard and the only franchise he has played for.
"Kawhi and his family mean a lot to our organization and to our community," said Buford, as reported by the San Antonio Express-News. "While none of us would wish we are where we are, we are going to do what we can to build the best relationship we can with him. We will explore all of our options, but the first one would be to keep Kawhi as part of our group."
Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season but returned to play in nine games. He complained of discomfort and pain in the leg in his final game. Leonard sought an outside opinion after the Spurs cleared him to play, working with his own medical team in New York in an attempt to return to the court. The 6-foot-7 forward reportedly grew upset that the Spurs had questioned his rehabilitation process.
The Spurs listed him as out on their injury reports for much of the year citing “injury management.” While San Antonio was in the playoffs, losing in the first round to eventual repeat champion Golden State, Leonard was rehabbing in New York — which meant that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, when asked about the situation, deferred all comment to “Kawhi and his group.”
“I think all of us would wish that things would have gone differently,” Buford said.
Leonard is reportedly upset with how the Spurs handled his injury, and public comments by teammate Tony Parker and coach Gregg Popovich that he deemed to be not sufficiently supportive.
Popovich reportedly met with Leonard in California earlier this week in the hopes of clearing the air. And despite Leonard's reported desire to play in Los Angeles, preferably for the Lakers, Buford's comment indicates the Spurs aren't going to give up the player they groomed to succeed Tim Duncan so easily.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.