SAN ANTONIO — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich expressed no interest Wednesday in rehashing the past when talking about his team hosting Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors on Thursday for the first time since it traded away the former franchise player.
Asked whether he regretted the myriad circumstances that led to Leonard’s trade, Popovich didn’t hesitate.
“You move on in life,” he said. “We’re not going to redo what’s happened in the past in any way, shape or form. It’s of no consequence at this point, and it does no good to go backward and talk about this, that or the other. One of the reasons is you guys will interpret it whatever way you want anyway. So it doesn’t matter what we say. You’re gonna say whatever you want. It’s a waste of our time. “
The reaction among fans locally was mixed when the Spurs finally decided in July to move Leonard to Toronto, but both Popovich and veteran guard Patty Mills said they hope the former Finals MVP is greeted warmly when he returns to San Antonio. The Spurs have put together multiple video tributes for both Leonard and Green to celebrate their contributions to the organization, according to sources, but they’re considering not running any if they anticipate an overly negative reaction from the fans at the AT&T Center to the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Popovich was asked whether he expected fans to boo Leonard, who played just nine games last season with the Spurs due to a right quadriceps injury.
“I don’t speak for other people, but I hope that they treat everybody with kindness and respect,” Popovich said. “We always have in the past, so we’ll see.”
Mills said he has remained in contact with both Leonard and Green, but sees the matchup against the Raptors as simply another game against a talented opponent.
“It’s getting to the point now that it seems that every other team we have a former teammate coming in or a former coach. So it’s cool,” Mills said. “This one is gonna be cool too to have Kawhi, and obviously Danny back. Two guys that have meant a lot to us and the city. [It] felt like they’ve both grown up here. To be able to welcome them back is going to be good, and obviously catch up with them.”
Asked whether he expected a negative reaction when Leonard is introduced, Mill expressed optimism.
“I hope they react just as well and the same that they do with any other ex-teammate that comes back,” Mills said. “He’s been a great teammate. He’s been a great friend to me, and he deserves that. I’m hoping that it will be a warm welcome back to San Antonio, a place where he has won a championship and grew up here. People have treated him well — the community, fans and people here in San Antonio. I think that goes without saying the kind of people that the community of San Antonio are, and the class and how family-oriented this city is. That’s what I hope. That’s what I expect.”
Even DeRozan, who on numerous occasions has expressed disappointment and anger about being traded from Toronto, doesn’t expect this contest to have any added significance. He did, however, say he’ll likely feel different on Feb. 22 when he finally returns to Toronto, where DeRozan played the first nine years of his career before the July trade.
For now, though, “I don’t feel like it’s going to be an emotional game,” DeRozan said.
Still there is at least some disappointment within the organization about the way the Leonard situation played out in San Antonio.
“This was really disappointing for all of us, from Pop and our program to our players,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford told ESPN. “We shared a lot of success together with Kawhi, and he was a very, very important part of that. So you end up doing a lot of self-evaluation and self-reflection when circumstances change. While I’m sure it wasn’t easy for Kawhi or anyone, we wish him well with the future of his career. It doesn’t surprise me at all, but I’m pleased for Kawhi and Danny to see them both doing well in Toronto. When we traded them and brought in DeMar and Jakob, we had very high expectations for them both as players and individuals, and they’ve both far exceeded our expectations.”