Kawhi Leonard ditched his braids to continue the NBA's turbulent summer

This NBA offseason has already been characterized by big-ticket moves, including the Philadelphia 76ers’ trade for the top pick in Thursday’s draft and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ decision not to retain title-winning general manager David Griffin. Other deals involving stars Paul George and Jimmy Butler could be on the way, as well, and the start of free agency on July 1 will surely bring more intrigue. It’s shaping up to be a busy summer, and the change can sometimes feel a little overwhelming.

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With that in mind, please take a breath before you read the next sentence.

San Antonio Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard has ditched his braids.

Chinese basketball player Xuewen Cheng originally posted the image to the social network Weibo before it captured attention in America on Tuesday night. While the picture has been filtered and altered considerably, there’s no mistaking the fact that Leonard is without the trademark braids he’s worn since he first captured national attention at San Diego State.

As far as we know, though, he’s hasn’t been without the hairstyle since long before that. Molly Podlesny of SB Nation found a photo of Leonard’s eighth-grade ID card in which he has the braids and had to go all the way back to this childhood glamor shot to see him without him. It’s entirely possible that the soon-to-be 26-year-old Kawhi has gone 15 years without him. It’s been at least 10.

Perhaps this is Leonard’s first step towards a new public image. The Spurs’ MVP candidate is known for shying away from media attention and not being particularly demonstrative on or off the court, but he’s now in a new level of stardom and has time to change things up. Maybe the new Kawhi will argue with referees after every play and get in the opponents’ face after each highlight-reel dunk.

Or maybe he was tired of dealing with an itchy scalp. You can never be too practical.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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