David Robinson: Leadership a challenge for Spurs' Kawhi Leonard

Alex Butler
San Antonio Spurs legend David Robinson (50). File Photo by Joe Mitchell/UPI
San Antonio Spurs legend David Robinson (50). File Photo by Joe Mitchell/UPI | License Photo

June 21 (UPI) -- David Robinson knew only one team during his 14-year Hall of Fame career: the San Antonio Spurs.

But that almost wasn't the case for his wingman Tim Duncan during the summer of 2000. That offseason, Duncan was a free agent considering a move to the Orlando Magic. He eventually dropped his anchor near the Alamo and the rest is history. "The Big Fundamental" and "The Admiral" went on to become one of the most dominant big man duos in NBA history, winning multiple championships.


Robinson told UPI in a recent interview that he hopes that's the case with Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs' star player who reportedly wants a trade.

"I think [Duncan] was pretty serious about the option of leaving," Robinson said. "That was a little scary for the franchise. We were able to convince him to stay and that worked out well for all parties involved and hopefully the situation will be similar.

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"It's always interesting when you get out and look around and everybody knows the grass always looks greener on the other side. But sometimes you have a pretty nice yard. It's nice to appreciate what you have."


New York Knicks' Dampen Dotson defends San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard on January 2 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

League sources told Yahoo Sports and USA Today that Leonard met with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich Tuesday for the first time since Leonard reportedly demanded a trade. Robinson said the Spurs haven't reached out to him and fellow Spurs legends in an effort to persuade Leonard to stay with the franchise.

The 10-time All-Star and 1994-95 NBA MVP said the key for the franchise has always been communication.

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"Obviously, you want to spend some time face to face and talking with him," Robinson said. "Usually that can help a lot of circumstances. You don't want to ever talk to somebody through other people or through the media, you want to get face to face.


"I think that's what they are trying to do right now and hopefully things will work out. He has been such a huge part of our success and we want him to stay. Who knows? I hear a lot of things in the media. But until I actually talk to him, I don't know what he's thinking."

The 2018 NBA Draft is set for 7 p.m. on Thursday in Brooklyn, N.Y. Robinson is working as a spokesman for Verizon, which is streaming the draft live on mobile.

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San Antonio holds the No. 18 pick, but could choose to move up if it acquires draft picks in a potential trade involving the two-time All-Star and 2013-14 NBA Finals MVP.

Robinson said he wanted to stay with the Spurs for as long as he could and was fortunate to make that goal a reality. He also said that there is a strong feeling that Popovich, 69, will keep coaching the Spurs through at least the 2020 season, as that is when he has committed to coach the Team USA national team. Robinson said he doesn't think a possible end to Popovich's tenure in San Antonio plays into Leonard remaining with the franchise.


Kawhi's biggest challenge

Robinson said Leonard needs to step up his leadership. The 26-year-old forward played in just nine games last season due to an ankle injury, watching the Spurs go 47-35 from the bench.

"From a leadership standpoint, definitely I think that's where his biggest challenge is," Robinson said. "I think this year, that's where the team wasn't communicating very well. It seemed like people were on different pages. As a leader, that's part of your job is to bring those guys together. That's where he can really mature. Be more vocal and start to communicate with people."

Robinson said he looks at LeBron James as an example of a leader. He said the Cleveland Cavaliers superstar makes it clear where he is and what he is thinking.

"When you are a leader of a franchise, everyone wants to know what's going on. Everyone wants to know are you in a good place. Can we follow you? That's the real key. That's where I think Kawhi is going to be able to step up and mature into that place."

Draft Duke and watching Warriors

Robinson knows the scouting report regarding the several highly touted Duke Blue Devils players in this year's NBA Draft. His son Justin Robinson plays at the school. He said that Marvin Bagley III is "amazing" and thinks that Wendell Carter Jr. will surprise people with how good he is at the next level. He also touted the skills of Gary Trent Jr. and Grayson Allen.


This next young crop will have to ball out immediately if they want to compete with the likes of the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, who have faced off in the NBA Finals for four consecutive years.

While some NBA fans groan at the thought of repetitive postseason matchups, Robinson says you can't fault the 2018 NBA champion Warriors for their excellence. He remembers having to face either the Los Angeles Lakers, Detroit Pistons or Chicago Bulls in order to navigate the postseason when he played.

"It's good to have a dominant team," he said. "It draws a standard for everyone to have to get to.

"... The Warriors have set a very high standard. You can't fault them. They're excellent. They've built the team the right way. More power to them. The rest of us just have to get better."

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