During the Gregg Popovich Era, the San Antonio Spurs have widely been considered a model organization. There haven’t been many former players with negative things to say about Popovich or the team. Negative headlines about the Spurs are so few and far between that when it happens, it’s seen as odd. In the last decade, however, they’ve become more common.
No organization, no matter how storied, is perfect. These few blemishes on the Spurs’ record over the last 10 years are considerable though, and they’re worth looking into.
Stephen Jackson’s career never recovered after being cut from the Spurs just before the 2013 postseason. On his All The Smoke Podcast in 2019, Jackson told his version of the story where he said the Spurs weren’t giving him enough minutes to get in a rhythm. After being called into Popovich’s office and realizing he was about to be cut and said, “I wanted to kick him in his f***ing face when I saw his face. I wanted to kick the s**t out of him.”
Jackson went on to say that Popovich orchestrated a scenario where Jackson would cut himself from the team. He claims that Popovich showed him game footage of all his bad plays from the season, and then gave him an ultimatum: Call in Danny Green and Manu Ginobili and admit to them they were better than him or leave. Jackson realized later that Popovich did that to make it his decision, but it’s ultimately the result Popovich wanted. Jackson recalls that shortly after he got home from the Spurs facility that day his friend Tracy McGrady called him and told him he just landed in San Antonio and was joining the team. That’s when Jackson knew it was all planned out.
Jackson went on to say that he heard Popovich say that he regretted the way the whole situation went down, and Jackson appreciated Popovich for that. The damage to Jackson’s career, however, was already done. Jackson insists that the Spurs losing the 2013 NBA Finals to the Miami Heat was karmic justice, stating, “I would’ve got that rebound, I would’ve locked up Ray Allen. They lost and that’s good for them.”
Of course, we can’t write this piece and not cover the “The Klaw” himself, Kawhi Leonard. Let’s go back to where it all began in Game 1 of the 2017 Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors. The Spurs were putting on a clinic and making the Warriors look like they don’t belong in the series. Then, with one play, everything changed – Leonard landed on Zaza Pachulia’s foot, injuring his ankle.Though recovered from the ankle injury that took him out of the playoffs, he began complaining about a quad injury that caused him to miss most of the season. The only problem is that the Spurs medical staff couldn’t seem to find an issue with his quad.
Leonard complained about soreness in the tendon that connects the quad to the knee. Fellow teammate Tony Parker had previously suffered a similar injury except it was arguably worse. Parker suffered a full quad tear in 2017 rehabbed and returned to the floor 20 games into the 2018 season, while Leonard stayed out claiming he wasn’t ready. This statement caused friction in the Spurs locker room. When Popovich was asked when Leonard would return, simply responded with that’s up to him and his group. This officially signaled to the media that the Spurs organization and Leonard were not on the same page. While things played out under wraps in the Spurs’ locker room, the saga played out every day in sports media.
Why did Leonard sit out for almost an entire season? Did he want to force a trade? Was he seriously injured? Can we blame it on his uncle taking over his management? Both parties have never spoken openly about what happened between them. With their respective reputations for privacy, likely, they never will.
On June 29, 2022, the Spurs traded their starting point guard Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks. While many Spurs fans were sad to see Murray and fan-favorite Lonnie Walker IV part ways with the team, reality eventually set in. Soon, attention shifted to the new 2022 draftees. Just as the Spurs fan base began to come to terms with the new reality in San Antonio, Murray took to Twitter to express the joy he felt being in Atlanta. He later clapped back at angry fans, saying the problem at San Antonio is bigger than basketball. Murray further claimed the Spurs will not be in title contention for fifteen years.
It was sad for Spurs fans to see Murray drag the team after leaving. Most fans see this as forgivable and are willing to chalk it up to immaturity. Some fans don’t seem as willing to let it go, and Murray seems to be happy with looking petty toward Spurs fans.
When the Pick A Side Podcast did a segment on the social media drama, co-host Joel Moran implied that Murray should have respect for the team that built him. Murray responded with an Instagram comment comprised of a long line of laughing emojis. The Spurs haven’t responded to Murray’s comments, but this still stands out as a rare occurrence where a former player has strong criticism for the organization as a whole.
Dejounte Murray responded to our post of me saying he’d be out of the league without the Spurs 😂 pic.twitter.com/8D8KxA2Tgg— Joel Moran (@joelvmoran) July 22, 2022
With the San Antonio Spurs Exposed, More Players Are Speaking Up
The bad press isn’t limited to these three incidents either. With NBA players being interviewed more frequently now on podcasts, more things will certainly come to light. Recently former Spur Vernon Maxwell even recently said that Popovich had a private investigator follow him to make sure wasn’t going clubbing. It’s not entirely fair to claim these players as “bad apples” or the system as “flawed”. Some people just aren’t a good fit.
Like the players, Spurs fans aren’t expected to be monolithic either. Before the team’s 1999 Championship, some Spurs fans thought Popovich was running the organization into the ground. For others, Popovich can do no wrong. Now that the team has been out of the playoffs for a few years, more stories will surely resurface as players past and present are more accessible than ever. The Spurs may have a harder time keeping things out of the press as they’ve grown accustomed to.