Kawhi Leonard's return reportedly pushed back
NBA.com Global on Mar 14, 2018 07:36 AM
FILE - SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 12: Head Coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 12, 2014 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
NBA.com staff report
The San Antonio Spurs are, as of this morning, out of the playoff race in the Western Conference. There is still time, however, for them to climb from that No. 10 spot they hold and, perhaps, soon make a playoff run with a familiar face in the mix.
After the team's 109-93 loss to the Houston Rockets, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he plans to talk with injured All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard about his possible return date. Leonard has not played since Jan. 13 (Jan. 14, PHL time) and has appeared in just nine games this season.
Reports surfaced last week that the Spurs were targeting Thursday's (Friday, PHL time) home date with the New Orleans Pelicans as a possible return date for Leonard. However, Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reported on Tuesday (Wednesday, PHL time) that the Spurs don't expect Leonard to be ready for that game.
Sources: San Antonio star Kawhi Leonard is expected to remain out through Thursday’s game against New Orleans. He plans to continue evaluating the quadriceps injury for a hopeful return.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 13, 2018
Kawhi Leonard will NOT play Thursday vs the Pelicans, per source. He's feeling "much better" but still not quite ready to return but there's still optimism he can return before the end the season.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) March 13, 2018
ESPN's Michael C. Wright has more on Popovich's talk with Leonard:
"I'll see Kawhi [Tuesday]," Popovich said. "We'll see how he's feeling, and see how ready he is, and see how ready I think he is. And we'll go from there."
Leonard's pending return date hasn't changed, and is barring a setback from a right quad injury, sources told ESPN. Leonard said last week he planned to return "soon" from the injury, which has kept him out for all but nine games this season.
Leonard said he has been riding a stationary bike and participating in 3-on-3 drills to simulate the physical contact of games, but he has done so with Spurs staff members, not teammates.
Leonard admitted that the only way to work himself into proper cardiovascular condition is to actually play in games.
Leonard was a top three finisher in the voting for the past two Kia MVPs and cornerstone of the Spurs' post-Tim Duncan era. His injury followed a sprained ankle that forced Leonard to miss all but the first game of the Spurs' 4-0 loss to the Warriors in last season's Western Conference finals.
Leonard's return would bring an end to a seemingly endless saga, and one highly unusual for the usually drama-free Spurs.
Leonard, the 2014 Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, was first revealed to be injured in training camp. Popovich would later say that he'd never encountered an injury like Leonard's during a career stretching back to the early 1970s.
Leonard finally made his season debut on Dec. 12 (Dec. 13, PHL time), scoring 13 points in 15 minutes as the Spurs lost to the Dallas Mavericks. He saw limited action in eight of the next 16 games, averaging 16.2 points in 23.3 minutes, before returning to the sideline in early January.
The Spurs have withered in his absence, faltering in 15 of their last 23 games after last night's (Tuesday, PHL time) defeat to the Rockets.
More unusual still were the stream of stories surrounding Leonard's rehabilitation, with ESPN reporting that his relationship with the Spurs had "chilled" as the process wore on and Popovich saying last month that he'd be "surprised" if Leonard returned this season.
But Leonard disputed those reports last week, asserting that he said he and the Spurs had always been on the same page during his rehab and that he "for sure" hoped to finish his career in San Antonio.