Moments after Kevin Durant fell to the court due to an apparent Achilles injury, there was an immediate reaction and swift social media justice that said the Warriors all-star forward should never have been on the floor.
Naturally, Kawhi Leonard’s tumultuous final season with San Antonio was used as an example of a player not rushing back before they are ready.
That’s where any comparison between Leonard and Durant should end.
Throughout these playoffs, there’s been a bigger national narrative saying the Spurs must have done Leonard so wrong and put his career in jeopardy that he lost complete trust in the organization and had no choice but to leave.
Though we may never know the full story, especially from the Spurs’ perspective, the team’s track record of protecting its players has proven that the front office does not operate in that manner.
Tim Duncan injured his meniscus before the end of the 2000 regular season and wanted to play in the playoffs, but was told by the Spurs coaches and medical staff he would not.
Fast forward to 2017 when Leonard suffered an ankle injury during Game 5 of the West semis against Houston.
The Spurs held Leonard out in Game 6 of that series before the ill-fated Zaza Pachulia incident in Game 1 of the West finals against Golden State.
"In the end, I guess it's my decision,” Popovich said at the time. “He's not thrilled he's not playing, but he's not ready."
It’s my belief that whatever occurred between the Spurs and Leonard had less to do with injury concerns than just the fact that Kawhi wanted out.
He was cleared by the Spurs medical staff, sought other medical opinions and decided it was best for his career to sit out. It was his call and his alone.
Was there miscommunication? A possible misdiagnosis? Blame on both sides along the way? Of course there was. The Spurs have admitted as much.
But the decision ultimately fell on Leonard’s shoulders, who has been exceptional in these playoffs.
It’s a bitter pill to swallow for Spurs fans, but now may be the time to put the argument over the medical staff at rest.
This brings us back to Durant. It’s hard to believe Durant did not give the Warriors the green light to play.
Yes, it’s the franchise responsibility to protect its players. That’s a decision they will have to come to grips with.
But when it comes to the Spurs, the franchise has always done right by their players, even one who is about to win an NBA championship in another uniform besides silver and black.
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