Spurs’ Gregg Popovich Made A Star Out Of Raptors’ Kawhi Leonard Says Steve Smith

Getty Trevor Ariza #1 of the Washington Wizards fouls Kawhi Leonard #2 of the Toronto Raptors.

San Antonio Spurs head coach, Gregg Popovich is the longest tenured coach in the NBA.

With strong leadership, Popovich, a five-time NBA champion has guided names like David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard.

Names like that have afforded Coach Pop the disinct honor of winning the NBA Coach of the Year award three times.

Having been part of the Spurs organization since 1988, humor and candor has been Popovich’s brand.

Case in point: I once asked Coach Pop who were his role models while growing up, Pop told me that he didn’t idolize celebrities because idols have feet of clay.

“At the top of my head, Thomas Jefferson was a great guy; he was a slave owner,”  Pop told me.

“You can make that similar analogy with a lot of other people who have been idolized. They all have flaws. So I go for people that I know.”

That’s a word! Who are you and where did you come from, Pop?

“He understands people,” former San Antonio Spurs champion and TNT analyst, Steve Smith told me.

“Chemistry and putting the right people together. He’s made stars out of players we never expected. I never thought Kawhi, Manu, and Tony would become what they were.”

Before becoming head coach of the Spurs, Pop had roles as a lead assistant and Vice President of Basketball Operations, before taking over as head coach after Larry Brown’s exit in 1996.

SAN ANTONIO, TX – MAY 03: Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs reacts against the Houston Rockets during Game Two of the NBA Western Conference Semi-Finals at AT&T Center on May 3, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

With strong leadership, Gregg Popovich coached David Robinson until he retired in 2003 and passed the torch to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili who would then hand over the Alamo keys to Kawhi Leonard before he silently demanded his exit to the NBA’s wide open Eastern Conference.

So for those keeping score at home: Steve Smith mentioned Kawhi Leonard in that equation with other iconic Spurs.

Rightly so! 

Smith also mentioned that he didn’t think Kawhi Leonard would be the scorer that he is?

“I saw a guy that defended well and played well off the basketball,” Smitty told me.

“Now I see a guy that’s comfortable with it. He’s kept his principles. Some guys come into the league and can’t balance the two. Kawhi has stood by his foundation and principles.”

Worth noting: In 54 games this season for the Raptors, Leonard is averaging 27.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per contest. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year is shooting 49.8 percent from the field, 37.7 percent from beyond the arc and 85.7 percent from the free-throw line.