The Kawhi Leonard era ended for the San Antonio Spurs weeks ago. After much silence before and since then, Leonard has said his farewell to the only NBA city he had called home.
In a letter submitted to the San Antonio Express-News, Leonard made a point to say thank you to the Spurs, his former teammates and coaches and the fans of the team. The former Finals MVP Leonard and his teammate, Danny Green, were traded by the Spurs to the Toronto Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 first-round draft pick on July 18. Leonard recently submitted his letter to the Express-News to express his gratefulness to the city and franchise he played for from 2011-18.
I have been going back and forth the last few weeks trying to figure out the right things to say, and it comes down to two simple words: THANK YOU!
My family and I want to say THANK YOU to the entire Spurs organization and the people and fans of San Antonio.
THANK YOU to every one of my teammates I’ve played with over my seven years in the NBA.
THANK YOU Pop I’ll always be grateful for my growth under your guidance.
THANK YOU to the fans! There is not a more passionate or dedicated fan base than what I’ve witnessed in San Antonio.
Through all the ups and downs – I’m glad there were many more ups! – I’ll never forget what we have shared and accomplished together.
While I’m looking forward to the next chapter in my career, I’ll always remember the city and the people of San Antonio! THANK YOU!
– Kawhi Leonard
— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) August 9, 2018
In mid-June, Leonard made it known through the media that he wanted a trade from the Spurs. The team worked from that point forward to deal Leonard, who is a four-time All-Defensive team member and two-time winner of the Kia Defensive Player of the Year. Several teams — from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Philadelphia 76ers — showed interest in acquiring Leonard. But ultimately the Spurs sent the All-Star Leonard to the Raptors for fellow All-Star DeRozan, ending an off-the-court drama that rarely seems to befall the Spurs.
Shortly after the Leonard trade took place, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich spoke with reporters and had nothing but positives to say about Leonard and the trade.
“We wish him well as he moves into Toronto. I think he’ll be great,” Popovich said on July 18. “I think this trade is going to work out great for both teams. We wish [Leonard] well, but at this point it’s time to move on. It’s time to move on.
“Kawhi is not going to stop being a great player. But we’re thrilled with DeMar. … To get back a proven NBA player and a proven All-Star, we have to be thrilled.”
Leonard appeared in just nine games last season, averaging 16.2 points 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. The strain between Leonard and San Antonio built throughout the 2017-18 campaign as the former 15th overall pick dealt with a lingering quadriceps injury. The unusual recovery time was compounded by his physical separation from the team, as Leonard continued his rehab in New York. His absence was especially notable during the Spurs’ first-round playoff exit to the Golden State Warriors.
The Spurs will open next season not only without Leonard, but as well without longtime guard Tony Parker (who signed with the Charlotte Hornets in free agency this summer). Much like Leonard, Parker also published a letter to the Spurs and their fans this week — but his was done on The Players’ Tribune web site.
Parker’s move — combined with Leonard’s departure — signaled the end of an era in San Antonio, which has seen plenty of change since Tim Duncan’s retirement in 2016. Alongside Duncan and Manu Ginobili, Parker comprised the Spurs’ “Big Three” for many years. But Duncan has retired, Parker is now gone and Ginobili’s status for next season is unknown.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.