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Spurs welcome Leonard after rare draft-day move

By Paul J. Weber

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, June 25 2011 3:15 p.m. MDT

SAN ANTONIO — Kawhi Leonard is the kind of player the San Antonio Spurs like: he's a character guy who plays defense and comes from a winning program.

It's how the Spurs got him that was unusual.

Acquiring the 6-foot-7 forward in the NBA draft required trading up, and that meant parting with backup point guard George Hill, who became a favorite of coach Gregg Popovich during his three seasons in San Antonio and was considered a future franchise star.

It was arguably the biggest draft-day move for the Spurs since 1997, when they had the No. 1 pick and drafted Tim Duncan.

"I guess I just fitted their type of scheme," Leonard said Saturday.

No doubts there.

For all the attention paid last season to the revved-up Spurs, who surprisingly morphed into one of the NBA's highest-scoring teams while winning 61 games, Popovich often moaned about his defense not meeting San Antonio's usual standards.

The Spurs think Leonard is a step back toward that direction. The former Aztecs star was a proven rebounder at San Diego State, averaging 10.6 rebounds for the Aztecs last season in helping them win a school-record 34 games and reach the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament. He even welcomed a comparison to Dennis Rodman when it comes to his pursuit of missed shots.

"I try to go after every rebound like Dennis Rodman. Some nights he came out with 20 rebounds; one night I had 20 rebounds," Leonard said. "It just shows how much passion we have on the defensive end and how much energy we bring to the team."

Leonard was one of four draft-day additions for San Antonio. The Spurs picked Texas guard Cory Joseph at 29th overall, getting a player Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said the team had targeted going into the draft.

The 6-3 guard, who played just one season at Texas, could eventually grow into Hill's replacement.

"I need to work on my game, obviously," Joseph said. "I need to tune up everything about my game."

San Antonio also acquired three international prospects, including two obtained in the deal with the Pacers.

Yet acquiring Leonard wasn't any easy decision for the Spurs.

Buford called dealing Hill one of the toughest moments for the front office since Popovich took over. But after bowing out in the first round to Memphis despite entering the playoffs with the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, the Spurs knew they couldn't sit still.

The Spurs haven't needed a high draft pick while being the NBA's winningest franchise for more than a decade. Bringing in Leonard, whom the Pacers selected 15th overall and immediately traded to San Antonio, gives the Spurs their highest draft pick since Duncan.

"I think as we saw some of the teams we're going to have to face in the future," Buford said following the draft-day trade, "and size for our positions weren't one of our strengths."

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