Kawhi Leonard is one of the NBA’s best players. Kawhi was a leading favorite to win MVP in the preseason but to this point of the season he’s only played 9 games.
Now, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that although the San Antonio Spurs have cleared Kawhi to play, he’s choosing to stay off the court.
WOW. We went into this season thinking Kawhi Leonard could be MVP. Instead…he may finish with only 9 games played and a boatload of questions about his future. https://t.co/djx0Rj8xHH
— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel__Nichols) February 21, 2018
Kawhi is battling a quadricep tendon injury that has kept him sidelined for most of the season. The injury is such that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich claimed he had “never” seen an injury like it before. That doesn’t sound good.
Back in January, Wojnarowski first reported on the fraying relationship between Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs over the handling of the injury:
“Under president and coach Gregg Popovich and general manager RC Buford, the Spurs have a two-decades-long history of strong relationships with star players, but multiple sources describe Leonard and his camp as ‘distant’ and ‘disconnected’ from the organization.”
Kawhi is signed through the 2020 season after penning a 5-year $95 million contract in 2015, but the forward has an opt-out clause to become a free agent in the summer of 2019. It benefits all parties to figure out a solution as soon as possible.
The Spurs are the golden standard for how to run a sports organization, you’d think they’d find a way to make Kawhi happy again.
But a month after that report, it appears that things have only gotten worse, and weirder, between the Spurs and Leonard. According to Woj, the Spurs have cleared Leonard to play, but the All-Star forward is choosing not to take 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 discomfort of the injury, according to the sources.”
Leonard is clearly dealing with a tough injury and his frustration is such that he no longer really trusts the Spurs, or his body, right now. Woj wrote about the growing discord between player and team and how with Leonard’s possible free agency in 2019, there’s a “palpable stress” around the Spurs organization:
“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.”
Yesterday, Gregg Popovich told reporters that it seems unlikely that Kawhi will return at all 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 into the season, and it’s going to be a pretty tough decision — how late to 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.”
Some were hesitant to take Popovich at his word here. He’s notoriously cagey and tongue-in-cheek with the media and maybe this was just another Pop misdirection.
That doesn’t seem likely in this case, but it’s possible that Pop is just trying to catch other teams off guard when they bring back a 100% Kawhi Leonard back for the playoffs.
"@mikecwright: Pop just said he'd be surprised if Kawhi returns this season."
He didn't specify regular season or postseason. NBA Twitter has evolved/too woke now to be fooled by Popovich's notorious vocabulary.
We know what this means, playoffs start and this gonna happen: pic.twitter.com/iYoeruRuWk
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) February 21, 2018
Honestly, I really hope that is the case. Kawhi Leonard is one of the most enjoyable and exciting players in the NBA when he’s on. Not only is he arguably the best defensive player in the entire league, he’s refined his game to become a dangerous and efficient scorer, putting up 25/6/2 last season.
The NBA is a lot more fun with Kawhi Leonard involved. With him, the Spurs could mount a serious challenge to the Warriors and the Rockets in the West. And while it’s quite literally insane that the Spurs sit 3rd in the West despite not having a healthy Kawhi all season, they have no chance without him.
The current situation is kind of unbelievable. How the Spurs let it get to his point is hard to understand. Hopefully Kawhi can regain his health and confidence and get back on the floor soon.
This season of NBA injuries has been so trash, I just miss Kawhi.