New York, January 3: Gregg Popovich hopes San Antonio Spurs fans give Kawhi Leonard a warm welcome on Thursday (January 3).
Leonard spent six great years with the Spurs, and one injury-plagued, controversial season that ended with his trade to the Toronto Raptors last offseason.
Leonard and the Raptors play in San Antonio on Thursday and Popovich hopes local fans remember the good times, and not last season's ugly drama.
"I don't speak for other people, but I hope that they treat everybody with kindness and respect," Popovich said (via the San Antonio Express-News). "We always have in the past, so we'll see."
Leonard is healthy again, not like last year when right quadriceps tendinopathy cost him all but nine games and left fans and even San Antonio staff questioning his commitment to playing. He requested a trade and the Spurs sent him to Toronto in a deal that brought Raptors star DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio.
Coming off a career-high 45 points against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, Leonard is averaging 27.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
Popovich downplayed Leonard's homecoming to the city where he spent seven seasons.
"It's like, what is it one third of the way through the season or whatever," Popovich said. "A lot of people because of the trade will add fuel to it and try to make it this, that and the other, and that's fine. But for us, it's about just trying to get better and create habits at both ends of the floor. It doesn't matter who we're playing, but those are the goals every game."
Popovich did not hesitate when asked if he regretted the situation that led to Leonard's departure.
"You move on in life," Popovich said (via ESPN). "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."