It did not take long for Gregg Popovich’s comments about team leadership to make their way to former Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard.
Popovich was asked before Saturday’s Spurs-Bucks game about team leadership and specifically how Patty Mills has stepped into the team leader role now that Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are no longer with the team.
The Spurs head coach said Mills is the team’s “inspiration” and has been an “ultimate warrior.”
Popovich added Mills has been in a leadership position since last season, a tumultuous year that was Leonard’s final campaign in San Antonio.
"Kawhi was a great player, but he wasn't a leader or anything. Manu and Patty were the leaders,” Popovich told reporters. "Kawhi's talent will always be missed, but that leadership wasn't his deal at that time. That may come as he progresses, but Patty and Manu filled that role for us last year, and LaMarcus [Aldridge] came a long way in that regard also."
Leonard, who was ultimately traded to Toronto, was asked Sunday about the comments of his former head coach.
"I heard about it. It's just funny to me because, you know, I don't know if he's talking about last year or not, but I guess when you stop playing they forget how you lead," Leonard told reporters in Toronto. "Other than that, it doesn't matter. I'm here with the Raptors. My focus is on the season and not what's going on the other side."
The all-star forward said he’s leading by example in Toronto and generally motivating his teammates, and lifting their spirits.
Leonard played in San Antonio for seven seasons and blossomed into an All-NBA player and MVP candidate.
He became disgruntled with the franchise last season and demanded a trade over the summer.
Leonard is scheduled to make his return to San Antonio on Jan. 3, when the Raptors play at the AT&T Center.