Whatever is going on between Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs, the situation is not improving and, with the end of the regular season approaching, his teammates decided to take matters into their own hands.
The Spurs, led by Tony Parker, held a players-only meeting, with conflicting reports about what went on. Players “implored” Leonard to return to the lineup, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports, in a scene that was tense and emotional, Wojnarowski writes. He adds that several players expressed frustration with Leonard, who has played in only nine games because of a quadriceps injury.
That description is at odds with one supplied by Jabari Young, who covers the team for the San Antonio Express-News. In the meeting, which he reports lasted five to 10 minutes, veterans wanted to know if and when he might play this season and reminded Leonard that there are 10 regular season games left. Leonard, whom Young writes was caught off guard by the meeting, told teammates that his goal was to return, but he offered no date for that.
On Wednesday, one teammate said he is skeptical that Leonard will play this season.
“He is not coming back,” Manu Ginobili said. “For me, he’s not coming back because it’s not helping [to think Leonard is returning]. We fell for it a week ago again. I guess you guys [reporters] made us fall for it. But we have to think that he’s not coming back, that we are who we are, and that we got to fight without him. That shouldn’t be changing, at least until he is ready for the jump ball.”
There is a growing sense of urgency as the playoffs approach. The Spurs, winners of five in a row, are sixth in the Western Conference playoff race, a game ahead of Minnesota and 1 1/2 ahead of Utah, with eight teams making the playoffs out of the West.
The injury, which has limited Leonard to a Dec. 12-Jan. 13 stretch of games, has created a level of drama unusual to Gregg Popovich’s team with will-he-or-won’t-he-play reports swirling about Leonard’s status. Ginobili added that the situation was tough on Leonard, too.
“It’s hard when you don’t practice with the team,” Ginobili said (via the San Antonio Express). “The bulk of the camaraderie is pregame, postgame and halftimes, when you are going through some adversity or trouble, and he is not with us most of the time. It’s hard, and I have been in that situation. Not [as long as he has], but for a month, month and a half, and it’s hard. Sometimes you feel like an alien to the core group and you have to fight through it. You have to make an effort to still be around and be part of the everyday topics and the good things and the bad things. You have to make an effort.”
Earlier this month, Leonard told reporters he hopes to return this season. “I just have to keep doing what I am doing,” Leonard said. “The progression that I am making has been great. I just have to keep doing what I am doing.”
Leonard worked out recently, but Popovich said he needs “a little bit more work.” Last month, Wojnarowski added to the mystery around Leonard, saying that he has “been long cleared to return — the final decision still remains with him.” If/when he is medically cleared publicly, there’s still a question about whether he will play.
“That’s a negotiation between the player and the coach to figure out what’s best,” Popovich said.
“He knows very well our history is pretty documented. If we’re going to err, we’re going to err on the conservative side because his career is going to be of paramount importance to us. It’s not the game or the playoffs or this or that. It was the same way with Tim [Duncan] early on when he hurt a knee one year, and we didn’t let him go in the playoffs. I don’t know if it’s going to be this situation. We don’t know. But his career is going to be paramount in our thinking as we make a decision.”
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