SAN ANTONIO — Marco Casas, 12, flexed some ingenuity in salvaging his grey Kawhi Leonard Spurs jersey.
He wasn’t throwing it away.
To repair the problem of Leonard’s nameplate on the again, Casa lined it with a silver strip of duct tape, and wrote “Aldridge” in black everlasting marker. On each the back and front, he caught a strip of black electrical tape vertically subsequent to the 2 on the Leonard jersey to make it No. 12.
A San Antonio native, Casas defined how Leonard’s departure again in July made him offended.
“Now, you are my favourite,” Casas informed LaMarcus Aldridge, as the Spurs huge man laughed and signed the jersey.
I’ve seen two of those Kawhi-conversion jerseys tonight. pic.twitter.com/vsp7n94Unj
— Michael C. Wright (@mikecwright) January four, 2019
Two summers in the past, Aldridge had requested a commerce away from San Antonio. Now, right here he was signing an autograph on the altered jersey of Leonard — a participant the Spurs did not need to commerce till they confronted no different choice — as Leonard made his debut as a customer to the AT&T Middle.
That scene Thursday night earlier than San Antonio’s 125-107 win over the Toronto Raptors served as the excellent summation of certainly one of the strangest durations in Spurs lore, as the staff lastly closed the guide on the Leonard chapter of its historical past.
A number of fan bases and franchises can lay declare to having skilled an evening like Thursday when a participant, on this case Leonard, returns to face his former staff after leaving on acrimonious phrases.
However by no means in San Antonio, the place David Robinson, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili all retired as career-long Spurs, and the place Tony Parker is anticipated to obtain a hero’s welcome when he returns in two weeks with the Charlotte Hornets.
Kawhi Leonard’s return to face the Spurs was met with the anticipated response — loud boos from the second he took the courtroom for pregame warm-ups.
Spurs guard DeMar DeRozan notched his first profession triple-double in his first assembly towards the Raptors, with whom he spent his first 9 NBA seasons.
The followers let their voices be heard loudly on maybe certainly one of the most awkward nights in San Antonio Spurs historical past. They jeered Leonard at each flip, chanting “traitor” and “quitter” at him concurrently, earlier than directing MVP chants towards DeMar DeRozan, who notched his first profession triple-double towards his former staff, having reluctantly arrived in San Antonio in the commerce that shipped the two-time NBA Defensive Participant of the Yr to Toronto.
The reality is, the Spurs did not enter this season with championship aspirations the manner they do most years beneath coach Gregg Popovich. Initially, the purpose was to simply salvage what they might out of the commerce they by no means needed to make in the first place and by some means stay aggressive via all of it.
Now at 22-17, the Spurs discover themselves in the thick of the battle for the West, simply three video games out of second place in the standings.
“It is at all times simple once you’ve received nice guys round you which are prepared to study,” DeRozan stated. “It is a nice group of fellows that’s prepared to sacrifice no matter they want to for the subsequent man. When you might have a staff like that, karma undoubtedly might be in your favor.”
Kawhi Leonard talks with Gregg Popovich and ex-Spurs teammates after Toronto’s 125-102 loss to San Antonio.
The Spurs entered this matchup towards the Raptors wanting to maintain any potential Leonard distractions to a minimal, which is the principal cause they downplayed the notion that this outing meant one thing greater than only a recreation. Popovich skilled firsthand in November how even mentioning Leonard, given current historical past, might flip right into a hot-button problem.
Requested about the management of Patty Mills in the wake of the retirement of Ginobili and Leonard’s commerce to Toronto, Popovich supplied a blunt evaluation of his former Finals MVP unintentionally, in accordance to sources, in addition to that of future Basketball Corridor of Fame level guard Parker.
Popovich stated at the time that, “Kawhi was an awesome participant, however he wasn’t a pacesetter or something.” However Popovich was merely attempting to say that the reserved Leonard, who got here up on a staff with veterans similar to Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, hadn’t but developed right into a vocal chief, preferring to give attention to doing his job to the better of his capability.
“Understanding Pop and being with him for thus a few years, he by no means needed to take a shot at Kawhi, in no way,” Parker informed ESPN. “That is not Pop’s model. So I assume he was simply saying that it was not Kawhi’s factor, you understand? As a result of the Massive Three was there. Slowly however absolutely, [Leonard] was beginning to do it. That was our purpose with Timmy and Manu for him to do it an increasing number of. Then after we have been gone, he was gonna do it. And he was beginning to do it. The individuals, they at all times need to exaggerate now.”
With Leonard out of the image now and the guide of San Antonio’s unusual 2017-18 season lastly closed, maybe now all people concerned can lastly transfer on.
Danny Inexperienced, who additionally was part of the Leonard commerce, made his return to San Antonio and obtained a heat reception from the followers at the AT&T Middle all through his warm-up and when he was launched in the beginning lineup. He hugged a Spurs PR staffer and a member of the safety staff, and on each clip that flashed Inexperienced’s face throughout the tribute video that featured each he and Leonard, the crowd cheered.
Earlier than the Raptors’ beginning lineup is introduced, the Spurs present a thank-you video for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Inexperienced.
Leonard, in the meantime, was booed relentlessly all through the evening, even each time he touched the ball.
“I felt badly about it,” Popovich stated. “Kawhi’s a high-character man. All of us make selections in our lives, what we’re going to do with our futures, and he has that very same proper as any of us. So, I felt badly in all honesty.”
As Leonard obtained the boos from the flooring, up in the stands, his uncle Dennis Robertson signed autographs for followers.
Even Leonard’s finest buddy, Jeremy Castleberry, a former member of the San Antonio teaching workers who left to be part of Toronto’s workers, walked down the corridor inside the area with an arm round a Spurs assistant coach.
So when Leonard acknowledged Thursday morning that “at occasions” he needs issues might have gone in a different way in San Antonio, you bought the sense he is being honest.
“This was actually disappointing for all of us, from Pop and our program to our gamers,” Spurs normal supervisor R.C. Buford informed ESPN. “We shared a number of success along with Kawhi, and he was a really, crucial a part of that. So you find yourself doing a number of self-evaluation and self-reflection when circumstances change.
“It will be irresponsible for me to communicate for Kawhi, however I do know he needs to achieve success. I do know he has at all times had a huge impact and presence when in a staff surroundings, and all I can say is whereas he was with us, it was an honor to sit again and share in his improvement each as a participant and as an individual.”