On Wednesday night, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich surprised everyone by telling the media he would “be surprised” if star player Kawhi Leonard plays again this season. That’s a shame, since Leonard is a regular MVP candidate when healthy and could be the difference between the Spurs challenging the Warriors or the Rockets for the Western Conference Championship when the playoffs roll around.
“I’ll be surprised if he returns this season,” Popovich said, according to Jabari Young. “Well, 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 going to be pretty late into the season and it’ll be a tough decision how late you bring somebody back. That’s why I’m trying to be honest and logical. I’ll be surprised if he gets back this year.”
Leonard has been sitting out with a quad injury and has only appeared in nine games for the Spurs so far this season. But here’s where things get weird. After Popovich’s comments on Wednesday, reports are emerging that Leonard has actually been cleared by team doctors to play. So at this point, he’s simply refusing to step back onto the court. Maybe he doesn’t feel fully healthy yet. Or maybe it’s something else.
“After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.”
“Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the San Antonio Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said. If Leonard returns, it will be because he has decided he can manage the pain of the injury, according to the sources.”
It sounds like he’s healthy enough to play, but might still be in some discomfort if he does. Leonard has one year left on his current contract, and may be weary of suffering a serious injury set-back before his “show me” year. Wojnarowski has previously reported that Leonard is “distant” and “disconnected” from the Spurs as a whole, which could be the early signs of an eventual breakup.
The Spurs are currently third in the West with a record of 35-24. They will easily make the playoffs again, but they might be heading into the postseason without their best player — who is healthy enough to play according to doctors, but not according to Leonard himself. What a strange situation.