- Gregg Popovich on Monday praised LaMarcus Aldridge for playing through adversity and being there for his team.
- Many in the NBA world wondered if the comments were a veiled shot at Kawhi Leonard.
- Leonard has not been with the Spurs in the playoffs as he rehabs a quadriceps injury that kept him out of all but nine games this season.
The Kawhi Leonard situation continues to linger over everything the San Antonio Spurs do, even if he is not directly involved.
On Monday, the Spurs fell to 0-2 to the Golden State Warriors in their first-round playoff series, while Leonard, still out with a quadriceps injury, continued to be away from the team, rehabbing with his advisors and doctors in New York City.
After the game, Popovich praised Spurs big man LaMarcus Aldridge, but the comments felt rather pointed.
“LaMarcus has been a monster all year long,” Popovich said. “He’s led our team at both ends of the floor. He doesn’t complain about a darn thing out on the court. He just plays through everything. I can’t imagine being more proud of a player as far as playing through adversity and being there for his teammates night after night after night. He’s been fantastic.”
The NBA world immediately seized on the idea that Popovich’s comments on Aldridge seemed to echo the Leonard situation.
This is totally not at all a message to someone who may or may not be watching from New York. Totally. https://t.co/aA4pfEqM5V
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) April 17, 2018
I missed the NBA. I missed playing "innocuous comment with no deeper subtext or vicious passive aggressive shot" https://t.co/BjTOqQE5Zg
— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) April 17, 2018
Was this meant for "Kawhi and his group" … or a reach? https://t.co/sinQMRtH73
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) April 17, 2018
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) April 17, 2018
USA Today’s Sam Amick wrote, “It was impossible not to wonder if there was a coded Kawhi Leonard message in there somewhere.”
Spurs doctors have reportedly cleared Leonard to play, but he has instead sat out, believing he’s not yet ready to take the court. While a player’s confidence in his body is not something that can be questioned, there have undeniably been signs of turmoil within the Spurs over the matter.
The team had a players-only meeting that reportedly turned emotional and tense at times as players questioned whether Leonard would return. Tony Parker, who injured his quadriceps in the playoffs last May and returned before Leonard, called his injury “100 times worse” and said he trusts the Spurs’ medical staff.
Leonard has not been with the team during the playoffs. When asked if Leonard will return, Popovich only vaguely said reporters would have to ask Leonard’s “group.”
It’s unclear whether Popovich truly meant the comments as a veiled shot at Leonard, though admittedly, he’s aware that some would interpret them as such. Leonard and his team have remained mostly quiet on the issue, but how they interpreted Popovich’s comments is also worth pondering.