We will not be seeing Kawhi Leonard return from a right quad injury and rescue the San Antonio Spurs’ playoff hopes.
Not this week anyway.
Though Leonard seemed like he was set to play in his first game since mid-January when the Spurs take on the New Orleans Pelicans this Thursday, his return has since been quashed, according to ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne:
ESPN’s Lisa Salters reported on Saturday that Leonard and the Spurs were targeting Thursday’s home game for his return if he continued to progress in his recovery from a quadriceps injury that has caused him to miss all but nine games this season.
A source told ESPN that Leonard’s target date has always been “mid-March,” suggesting that his return to the court will more likely be next week, as the Spurs have home games Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would not put a timetable on Leonard’s return, saying on Monday that he would speak with Leonard on Tuesday to evaluate the situation. Leonard and Popovich touched base again Tuesday; the two have remained in daily contact, with the forward inching closer to a possible return.
Popovich revealed Tuesday that the next step rests with Leonard’s doctors.
“He’s got to be cleared by his medical staff that he’s seeing. And until he gets cleared, we can’t make a decision on when he’s coming back,” Popovich said. “So once he gets cleared, then he and I can sit down and talk and see what we think about an appropriate time to come back. But that clearance has to be obtained first.”
Well, this situation sure remains messy.
The Spurs and Leonard collectively deciding he shouldn’t return would be one thing. Only one month remains in the regular season. The Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets are considered heavyweights in the Western Conference. It’s not hard to find value is resting Leonard for the rest of the year and regrouping in time for next season.
That this decision now rests with Leonard and his doctors, though, makes for awkward circumstances. The Spurs have, by all indications, cleared him to play for a while now. He of course deserves a say on whether he takes the court, but seeking outside opinions infers some sort of miscommunication or disagreement.
Head coach Gregg Popovich, for his part, did say that Leonard needs some more work. So perhaps this isn’t a total cluster-you-know-what. Yet the Spurs at the very least could use some clarity on Leonard’s immediate future. They sit in ninth place in the Western Conference, just outside the playoff picture for the first time since 1997. FiveThirtyEight barely gives them a coin toss’ chance at sneaking back in. If he’s not going to come back at all this year, it would help the Spurs to know, if only so they can gain some distinct closure ahead of their stretch run.