The 26-year-old forward continues to deal with right quadriceps tendinopathy, though he has been medically cleared to return to the team, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Despite that improvement, Leonard continues to hold himself out of action. Leonard has been given the ability to decide when or if he’ll return to the floor. For now, he’s choosing to continue to stay off the court until he feels he can “manage the discomfort of the injury,” according to ESPN.
But why, if he’s medically cleared to play, is he seemingly so far from a return? That’s probably the question causing tension in San Antonio.
The injury, rehabilitation and timetable for a return has complicated the Spurs and Leonard’s relationship, causing tension and fraying the fabric of what was once a strong partnership, league sources told ESPN. The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future, which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.
The latest report of tension isn’t the first time Leonard’s injury has provided drama. After months of discord over treatment of the injury, Leonard and the Spurs began to grow distant and disconnected in late January, according to an earlier ESPN report.
Leonard can opt-out of his five-year, $90 million contract after the 2018-19 season. With Leonard stuck with the Spurs for a season and a half, the only news that’s missing from this bizarre dynamic is a demand for a trade. And would anyone be surprised if that came next? After all, rumors have sprouted that Leonard wants to leave the Spurs, and doesn’t feel they will properly surround him with talent for a championship.
Leonard’s absence has left Gregg Popovich pessimistic about Leonard’s return for the 2017-18 season and a postseason run. With Leonard just playing nine games this season, the Spurs (35-24) will come out of the All-Star break in third place in the Western Conference.
Popovich, who said he has “never” seen an injury like Leonard’s, addressed the forward’s potential return during practice on Wednesday.
“You know, with Kawhi, I’ll be surprised if he returns this season. … We only have ‘x’ number of games left in the season, and he’s still not ready to go. “If by some chance he is, it’s gonna be pretty late in the season and it’s going to be a pretty tough decision, you know, how late you bring somebody back. So that’s why I’m just trying to be honest and logical. I’ll be surprised if he gets back this year.”