'It's time to move on': Gregg Popovich speaks after Kawhi Leonard traded from Spurs

Leonard traded to Toronto for DeMar DeRozan

SAN ANTONIO – After seven seasons in San Antonio, the Kawhi Leonard era has come to an end.

On Wednesday, Leonard and Danny Green were traded to the Toronto Raptors for a package that involved four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan.

The trade sent shock waves across the league and shifts the landscape of the NBA.

The deal also ends a nearly yearlong saga that involved a reported tense relationship between the Spurs and the player once believed to be the future face of the franchise.

Leonard, through his advisers, demanded a trade this summer.

Leonard's elusiveness and silence, once considered two of his greatest Spurs-like qualities, spoke volumes of the forward's determination to leave the Spurs.

A trade became imminent, so when Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich spoke to the media about Leonard's departure, he chose to take the high road, shared no ill-will toward Leonard and lauded him for his accomplishments during his time with the Spurs.

"Kawhi worked very hard to become the player that he is, our staff worked very hard to help him get there and we wish him all the best as he moves on to Toronto,” Popovich said. 

Green was primarily included in the trade for financial reasons. The nine-year guard helped the Spurs become one of the top defensive teams in the league on a yearly basis. Popovich said he will be missed.

"He’s been here quite a while and he was a big part of what we do both on and off the court, a great community guy and we are going to miss him very much,” Popovich said.

In DeRozan, the Spurs get an instant offensive threat into the starting lineup. DeRozan averaged 23 points per game last season for the Raptors. Second-year center Jakob Poetl and a protected 2019 first-round pick were also included in the trade to San Antonio.

“This trade is going to be good for both teams. DeMar is a four-time All-Star, he’s All-NBA player, a team player, somebody I have respected and watched play for a while now, and we’re thrilled to have him here,” Popovich said.

The Spurs head coach chose not to elaborate on efforts to get Leonard to stay in San Antonio, adding it's time to move on. He said he spoke to Leonard and Green on the phone when the trade was finalized.

“Kawhi conducted himself wonderfully while he was here. He helped us win a fifth championship, he was a hard worker all the time," Popovich said. "We wish him well, but at this point it’s time to move on. I’m concerned about Jakob, DeMar and our basketball team.”

Leonard's departure and fallout from the only NBA franchise he's ever played for remains a bit of a mystery.

The Spurs acquired his rights during the 2011 draft from the Indiana Pacers. In San Antonio, Leonard blossomed into one of the best two-way players in the league.

He was named NBA Finals MVP in 2014 and won back-to-back league Defensive Player of the Year awards. Leonard also the runner-up in league MVP voting twice. 

Leonard's last season as a Spur was a tumultuous year that few, if hardly anyone, ever saw coming.

Leonard never showed public signs of discontent in San Antonio. Headed into the 2017-18 season, he was predicted by many media outlets to win league MVP and help the Spurs possibly dethrone Golden State.

It appeared the Spurs were set to move well beyond the Tim Duncan era with Leonard as the centerpiece for years to come. That plan for the future was derailed in a matter of months.

Leonard missed the preseason and the first 27 games of the season with an injury that was described by the Spurs as quadriceps tendinopathy.

He returned in December, but was shut down a month later after playing in only nine games. He never returned to the Spurs lineup. 

A key issue that surfaced was the treatment of Leonard's quadriceps injury and whether it was misdiagnosed by team medical personnel.

Leonard rehabilitated the injury in New York independent of Spurs doctors and was rarely seen with the team after the NBA All-Star break.

Rumors of discord between the organization and Leonard began to surface as the year went on, leading to the trade demand last month.

The Spurs front office believed it did all it could to keep Leonard in San Antonio but decided to move on when it became apparent the relationship could not be repaired.

San Antonio now moves on with DeRozan after a historic trade in Spurs history.

The NBA schedule will determine when Leonard will make his return to San Antonio, now wearing a Raptors jersey. 

About the Author:

RJ Marquez has been at KSAT since 2010. He's covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area, and is the lead reporter for KSAT Explains. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms. You can see RJ regularly on KSAT Explains and Good Morning San Antonio. He also writes a weekly Spurs newsletter.