There’s this fear among NBA fans that once LA Clippers star Kawhi Leonard retires, we may never hear from him again. While Leonard is of the same ilk as LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, he isn’t as gregarious when it comes to promoting his brand. Legendary head coach Gregg Popovich knew that from the very beginning. He knew he had to take a different approach to unlock Leonard’s burning potential.
In 2016, amid Leonard’s rise as a legitimate NBA superstar, Popovich revealed a few things about the Claw’s attitude. The legendary coach observed that Leonard is a bit of a perfectionist. When he makes a mistake, it really pisses him off. And that’s where Popovich regains his confidence.
“When Kawhi makes a mistake, he almost apologizes. He doesn’t want to disappoint anyone. There are times when he does something right, and I have to say to him, ‘That was great. That was fantastic. ‘was a hell of a job. You can smile now. You can feel good about yourself.'” said Popovich, according to Sports Illustrated.
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The San Antonio Spurs head coach also observed Leonard’s urge to play basketball. So much so that Kawhi doesn’t like being taken off the field. At least not before playing his usual minutes. Kawhi won’t say a word, but her actions scream her displeasure. Popovich knows what to say when he sees Leonard pucker his lips.
“If I take him out too soon, for example, he will go like this”: Popovich curls one side of his lip. “What he’s saying is, ‘Pop, why the hell are you kicking me out so soon?’ but he would never say that. So I say, ‘I’ll get back to you,’ and he nods and sits down.”
Gregg Popovich, Sports Illustrated
Some might think Leonard acts like a diva. Why would a legendary trainer adapt to please him? Well, that’s one of the roles of a coach. The goal is to maximize the potential of its players. Not everyone is built the same. Some are extroverted. Some are like Kawhi, who keeps his thoughts to himself. A coach must be able to get to know his players and think of ways to approach them.
NBA fans haven’t heard a word from Leonard in the 2021-22 NBA season. All we knew was that he was recovering from a partial ACL tear in his right knee. Amid his absence, the Clippers have performed relatively well. The front office also made key acquisitions. Veterans Norman Powell and Robert Covington were added which really bolstered their roster.
Recent reports reveal that Leonard has started training and was even spotted hooping in the Dominican Republic.
Perhaps all of these are good indicators that Leonard will finally lace up his shoes in the 2023-23 NBA season. We’ll finally see the claw in action, backed by a much stronger Clippers roster. A playoff appearance is definitely on the horizon. And we all know Leonard can lead a team to an NBA championship.