Kawhi Leonard is the main trade piece that made the Spurs send Hill to his hometown Indianapolis.
In a deal that constitutes the boldest draft-day move of their post-championship era, the San Antonio Spurs traded George Hill a key rotation who coach Gregg Popovich once lauded as “my favorite player” to the Indiana Pacers for a package highlighted by Kawhi Leonard, a high-energy small forward the Pacers selected with the 15th overall pick.
Though the Spurs are intrigued by Leonard, who at 6-foot-7 gives the Spurs added size at a position where they were small, Buford made clear the night was bittersweet.
“This might have been one of the most difficult nights in Spurs history, as long as we’ve been here,” Buford said. “To lose a player like George Hill, who has meant so much to our team, to our culture, to our locker room … it’s one of the most difficult decisions we’ve had to make.”
The Spurs entered the offseason with the stated goal of regaining a defensive edge that had eluded them the previous few seasons. By trading for Leonard and using their own first-round pick, 29th overall, on defensive-minded Texas point guard Cory Joseph, draft night further underscored that intention.
Leonard averaged 15.5 points and 10.6 rebounds as a sophomore at San Diego State last season, but his value comes in his ability to guard multiple positions.
He was the cornerstone of an Aztecs team last season that rose to a top-5 national ranking.
“I don’t know if he’s a throwback to Bruce (Bowen),” Buford said, referring to a player widely viewed as the best defensive wing in club history. “But he led a team at SDSU that had little to no success and took them to one of the top rankings in the country.”