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Gregg Popovich says the trade that landed Kawhi Leonard 6 years ago was the ‘toughest’ decision he’s made with the Spurs

Gregg Popovich says the trade that landed Kawhi Leonard 6 years ago was the ‘toughest’ decision he’s made with the Spurs

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="(Darren Abate/AP)
The San Antonio Spurs changed the trajectory of their franchise with a draft-day trade in 2011.” data-reactid=”20″>(Darren Abate/AP)
The San Antonio Spurs changed the trajectory of their franchise with a draft-day trade in 2011.

After the 2010-11 season, the Spurs had been knocked out of the first or second round of the playoffs for three straight years. They needed a change-up and an infusion of youth.

They found that spark in June by trading then-reserve guard George Hill to the Indiana Pacers for the 15th pick in the draft, which they used to draft Kawhi Leonard.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Leonard has since blossomed into one of the NBA's brightest two-way stars, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Finals MVP, All-Star, and top-10 scorer. Of course, the Spurs couldn't have known he would grow into the monster he's become. In fact, to hear Gregg Popovich tell it to Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Abrams in a story about Leonard’s development, the decision to trade Hill in 2011 was a gut-wrenching one.” data-reactid=”23″>Leonard has since blossomed into one of the NBA’s brightest two-way stars, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Finals MVP, All-Star, and top-10 scorer. Of course, the Spurs couldn’t have known he would grow into the monster he’s become. In fact, to hear Gregg Popovich tell it to Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Abrams in a story about Leonard’s development, the decision to trade Hill in 2011 was a gut-wrenching one.

“The toughest [decision] in whatever, 20, whatever years I’ve been coaching here as a head coach. It’s not even close. We were scared to death sitting in the room. I think it was the 15th pick, if I remember, and when we got to 11, 12, 13. Danny Ferry, our CEO, and I were looking at each other saying, ‘Are we really going to do this?’

“[Hill] was one of my favorite players. He was important to us, but we needed to get bigger. … So in the end, we said we’re going to roll the bones and we’re going to do it, but I can’t tell that at that point we knew that Kawhi was going to be what he is today. That would be an exaggeration.”

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Popovich once recalled the trade in more colorful terms to Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins.” data-reactid=”26″>Popovich once recalled the trade in more colorful terms to Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content=""We were all looking at each other like, Are we really going to do this?. We were scared s—less. We don’t know this kid. He’s not a shooter. He’s not a scorer. He’s not a perimeter player. He’s a big guy who can rebound."” data-reactid=”27″>“We were all looking at each other like, Are we really going to do this?. We were scared s—less. We don’t know this kid. He’s not a shooter. He’s not a scorer. He’s not a perimeter player. He’s a big guy who can rebound.”

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="To hear Popovich describe Leonard as "a big guy who can rebound" further illustrates how grand Leonard’s rise has become.” data-reactid=”28″>To hear Popovich describe Leonard as “a big guy who can rebound” further illustrates how grand Leonard’s rise has become.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Leonard’s transformation into a top-10 NBA talent has revitalized the Spurs. Though the big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili were still the stars of the show during the Spurs back-to-back Finals runs in 2013 and 2014, it was Leonard’s versatility that helped them win the championship in 2014, leading to him winning the Finals MVP.” data-reactid=”29″>Leonard’s transformation into a top-10 NBA talent has revitalized the Spurs. Though the big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili were still the stars of the show during the Spurs back-to-back Finals runs in 2013 and 2014, it was Leonard’s versatility that helped them win the championship in 2014, leading to him winning the Finals MVP.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Furthermore, his youth has given them a building block upon which to add talent. Leonard’s promising future likely played a role in landing LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015, and in the coming years, even as the Spurs need to re-tool, they&nbsp;can lean on Leonard to give them a leg up on the competition. Such is life with a franchise star.” data-reactid=”30″>Furthermore, his youth has given them a building block upon which to add talent. Leonard’s promising future likely played a role in landing LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015, and in the coming years, even as the Spurs need to re-tool, they can lean on Leonard to give them a leg up on the competition. Such is life with a franchise star.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="While Hill is a solid two-way point guard, a borderline All-Star who could command a max. contract this summer, by almost every measure, that tough decision was worth it for Popovich and the Spurs.” data-reactid=”31″>While Hill is a solid two-way point guard, a borderline All-Star who could command a max. contract this summer, by almost every measure, that tough decision was worth it for Popovich and the Spurs.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="NOW WATCH: Here’s why Canyon Barry has a better free-throw percentage than most NBA players” data-reactid=”32″>NOW WATCH: Here’s why Canyon Barry has a better free-throw percentage than most NBA players

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