Wednesday the San Antonio Spurs resumed practice after having a week off for the All-Star break.
The good news for the Spurs, Rudy Gay will return to the court Friday at Denver according to Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich.
The bad news for the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard might be done for the season.
“On Kawhi, I’ll be surprised if he returns this season,” Popovich told the media.
“We only have x number of games left in the season and he’s still not ready to go. And, if by some chance he is, it’s going to be pretty late in the season and it’s going to be a tough decision and you know, how late you bring somebody back. That’s why I’m just trying to be honest and logical. I’ll be surprised if he gets back this year.”
When asked if the Spurs will rule out Leonard for the season, Popovich responded: “I’m ready to say what I just said.”
“We’ve got to move on,” continued Popovich of the team’s mindset. “The team has to realize this is who we are. Wishing and hoping doesn’t do anybody any good.”
Leonard has played in just nine of the Spurs’ 59 games so far and there’s only 23 contests left until the playoffs begin. Leonard’s been sidelined this season with right quadricpeps tendinopathy.
Even though the Spurs are currently in the third seed of the Western Conference standings, only a handful of losses separate them and the 10th seed Utah Jazz. Plus, 18 of the Spurs’ final 23 opponents have records that are .500 or above at the moment. That makes the Spurs’ schedule the toughest of the team’s out West ranked 3-10 in the standings.
The Spurs will welcome Gay’s return, since he’s their second leading scorer on the team and second play maker when Leonard isn’t available. Gay hasn’t played since December 28, 2017, after suffering right heel bursitis.
Now that the Spurs are going forward with the mindset that Leonard won’t be back this season, it’ll be interesting to see if Gay becomes the teams starting small forward when he gets his legs back under him.
Later on Wednesday evening after Popovich’s press conference, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com reported some new details on Leonard’s injury situation.
According to Woj’s sources, during the All-Star break, Leonard was able to get a second medical opinion on his right quad injury in New York, where he’s been cleared to resume play, but he has chosen not to return to the court.
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.
Woj’s reporting also included this detail about the relationship between Leonard and the Spurs.
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.
So what do these new reported details mean? They could be interpreted in a variety of ways.
A) Maybe Leonard isn’t comfortable with only 23 games left to try to return to play at a high level and he instead is choosing to sit out the full season. In this scenario, he would get the whole summer off to rest and recover, and then return healthy for the 2018-19 season in October.
B) As ESPN has reported in the past, maybe there is some disagreement about Leonard’s future with the Spurs and he may not want to play long term with the organization.
Regardless of the reason why Leonard won’t return to play, the main road that will truly reveal where he and the Spurs stand will be in the summer. In July, the Spurs will have the option to extend the five year, $219 million super max contract to Leonard. Should San Antonio provide the contract to Leonard this summer, he’ll have until mid October to sign it.
Should he sign it, then it’s a sign he and the Spurs will be continuing their partnership for the next five seasons and possibly beyond. If he doesn’t sign it, then it may become a sign that he does want out of San Antonio.
As has been written before with Leonard’s injury situation, only time will tell.