The San Antonio Spurs are slowly gaining on the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference this NBA season. With the injuries and years catching up with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, another set of up and coming stars are gearing up to take over the lead. At this point, the San Antonio Spurs are easing the way for Danny Green, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard to take over the team once the older men retire. Among the three younger guys, Leonard has been one of the most widely talked about star this season.
With his recent performances this basketball season, Leonard has caught the attention of the fans and the entire NBA community. Based on the ESPN rankings, the San Antonio Spurs small forward is only trailing behind Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry and Cleveland Cavaliers leader LeBron James for the MVP award this season. This puts him ahead of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard and James Harden.
However, Gregg Popovich was not always this confident of Leonard's entry into the San Antonio Spurs. In an interview with Sports Illustrated via San Antonio Express News, the NBA team's head coach shared their apprehension in signing the 24-year-old in 2011. Before joining the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard was the 15th overall NBA draft pick of the Indiana Pacers. He was then traded to the Duncan squad on the same night along with Davis Bertans and Erazem Lorbex. In exchange, the San Antonio Spurs let go of George Hill.
"We were all looking at each other like, 'Are we really going to do this?' We were scared s---less," shared Popovich of the night they traded for Leonard. He added, "We don't know this kid. He's not a shooter. He's not a scorer. He's not a perimeter player. He's a big guy who can rebound."
Popovich then described Leonard as "serious as a heart attack" on their first meeting. The San Antonio Spurs head coach further shared that the young star "wants the greatness badly." Despite his desire to be the top dog in the league, Popovich noted that Leonard did not care much for the stardom. The head coach noted, "He loves the game. He ignores the rest of it ... If [the arena] were empty, he'd probably like it a lot more."
Although Popovich aims to keep things "light" with Leonard, the head coach never fails to remind the All-Star of his duty to the team. He shared, "I try to keep things light with him..but I also let him know it is now his responsibility to bring it night after night like Kobe, like Michael, like Magic, like Larry, like Tim Duncan. He is in that category."
Sean Elliott, a former San Antonio Spurs star and a current TV sports analyst, also shared his two cents about Leonard. He said, "To be a true scorer, like Kobe or Michael or LeBron, I think you have to be a little selfish ... You have to be a little cocky ... I don't know if there's ever really been a superstar like this." As for David West, he described his teammate as "Tim Duncan 2.0."