The beginning of an ugly breakup between Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs started early last season with a left quad injury. Disagreements about treatment and handling of the star’s tendinopathy eventually led to his appearance in only nine games and none of them after mid-January.

DeRozan Gets Triple-Double, Leonard Gets Booed

Eventually, Leonard, who the Spurs had developed into one of the game’s premier defenders, was traded to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for fan-favorite player DeMar DeRozan. The two fan bases took grievances with the trade. Toronto felt it had abandoned their star who had just carried the team to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. San Antonio felt that giving into Leonard only brought them back a lower level star with an outdated way of shooting.

Before Leonard’s first appearance back in San Antonio, coach Gregg Popovich pleaded with fans to welcome the old star along with his fellow trade piece and former Spur Danny Green. When introduced, Green received a standing ovation and applause. Leonard was heavily booed.

This continued any time he received the ball during the game. The small forward would score 21 points and dish out five assists. But it was DeRozan who led the way. After declaring in the offseason that he’d drop 50 points the first time he played against Toronto, instead, he scored 21 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists for the first triple-double of his career. The Spurs routed the Raptors 125-107 off of his performance.

“It really wasn’t nothing,” DeRozan said. “It was fun. It was extremely fun. It wasn’t emotional at all for me. … It was just a fun game for me.”


After the game, Kawhi went to speak with Popovich. The coach said he “felt badly about” how Leonard was treated, including the traitor chants he received. “Kawhi is a high-character guy. We all make decisions in our lives, what we are going to do with our futures, and he has that same right as any of us,” Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News. 

Leonard wasn’t surprised by the reaction. “Media does a great job to stir people’s minds and influence them to think a certain way,” he said. “So I already knew that’s how it was going to be.”

The two teams will meet again, this time in Toronto, on February 22.

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