SAN ANTONIO – Kawhi Leonard spent eight seasons in San Antonio, won a championship with the Spurs and was named an NBA Finals MVP before demanding a trade out of the Alamo City last summer.
On the eve of his return, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and guard Patty Mills hope fans will remember the better days as opposed to the end, which saw the former face of the franchise become disgruntled with the franchise, play only nine games and leave unceremoniously.
Popovich talks Kawhi Leonard return to San Antonio to face #Spurs...says its like any other game..also asked about regrets with Kawhi and fans reaction tomorrow at ATT Center #KSATsports #KSATnews #NBA pic.twitter.com/bb0iikf5Pt— RJ Marquez (@KSATRJ) January 2, 2019
“I don’t speak for other people, but I hope that we’ll treat everybody with kindness and respect, we always have in the past, so we’ll see,” Popovich said when asked about the fans' reaction to Leonard’s appearance Thursday night at the AT&T Center.
Patty Mills said despite a difficult final season, Leonard was a great teammate and good friend. He is hopeful fans treat Leonard with class.
“Hoping that it will be a warm welcome back to San Antonio. He’s won a championship and grew up here,” Mills said. “People have treated him well, the community and fans. I think that goes with the kind of people the community of San Antonio are, and the class, and how family oriented the city is. That’s what I hope, that’s what I expect.”
Patty Mills talks about Kawhi Leonard return to San Antonio...asked about fans reaction to Leonard, staying in touch with KL and @DGreen_14, and game planning against Kawhi for first time...ends by joking "any questions about Jakob!?" #Spurs #KSATnews #KSATsports #NBA pic.twitter.com/9LBKCYFkin— RJ Marquez (@KSATRJ) January 2, 2019
What Spurs players hope for and expect is one thing, but it’s not every day that a former MVP candidate who was tabbed to be the next Spurs homegrown star returns in an opposing uniform while still in his prime.
The Spurs are downplaying Leonard’s return, saying Thursday’s game will be just another regular season affair.
“Just like any other team, player,” Popovich said when asked what will it will be like to see Leonard.
The Spurs head coach added there is no point in dwelling on the past, and he does not have regrets about the way it ended with Leonard.
“You move on in life,” Popovich said. “You are not going to re-do what’s happened in the past in any way shape or form. Does no good to go backwards.”
“It feels like a lifetime ago that all that stuff happened, we’ve moved a long way forward since then,” Mills said. “I spent many good times with both of those teammates, with Kawhi and especially Danny (Green). Many great memories, both on and off the court that for me, will last a lifetime.”
Mills added there’s no hard feelings after a tumultuous 2017-18 campaign and the loss of an All-NBA player. It remains to be seen if fans feel the same.