Spurs' Gregg Popovich on Kawhi Leonard: 'He was a great player, but he wasn't a leader or anything'

MILWAUKEE -- A few hours before the San Antonio Spurs' matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night, Gregg Popovich offered a rather interesting and honest quote during his pre-game media session. 

"Well, Kawhi [Leonard} was a great player, but he wasn't a leader or anything," Popovich said. "Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills] were the leaders. Kawhi's talent will always be missed, but that leadership wasn't his deal at that time. That may come as he progresses, but Patty and Manu filled that role for us last year, and LaMarcus [Aldridge] came a long way in that regard also."

Popovich's thoughts on Leonard came after a follow-up question about the importance of Patty Mills to the Spurs. After offering effusive praise of Mills and the role he plays on the Spurs -- "He's like our inspiration, he's an ultimate warrior, gives everything he's got all the time" -- Popovich was asked if Mills' leadership was even more important now that players like Ginobili, Leonard and Tony Parker are gone. That was when Popovich took a bit of a side-swipe at Leonard. 

It seemed that Popovich was speaking primarily about last season, when Leonard missed all but nine games, amid a bizarre injury saga, but it was an interesting response nonetheless. Late last season, Popovich noted some vague frustration and confusion over Leonard's status, but this was the first time that he has directly criticized his former star. 

Popovich and his new-look Spurs roster will have another opportunity to prove themselves on Monday night when they square off against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center (8 p.m. ET -- watch on fuboTV with the NBA League Pass extension ).

Whether it was the season-long drama, being forced to trade Leonard, the fact that he started dominating almost immediately in Toronto, or some combination of the three, it certainly seems that Popovich's view of the two-time Defensive Player of the Year has changed. Just two seasons ago, Popovich praised Leonard's quiet, do-as-I-do-leadership, and felt he was on the same path as Tim Duncan

NBA Writer

Jack Maloney lives and writes in Milwaukee, where, like the Bucks, he is trying to own the future. Full Bio

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