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San Antonio Spurs: Gregg Popovich not hopeful of Kawhi Leonard return

By Rob Wolkenbrod
SAN ANTONIO,TX - DECEMBER 18 : Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs chats with head coach Gregg Popovich before the start of their game against the Los Angeles Clippers at AT&T Center on December 18, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO,TX - DECEMBER 18 : Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs chats with head coach Gregg Popovich before the start of their game against the Los Angeles Clippers at AT&T Center on December 18, 2017 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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A fear of Kawhi Leonard not playing for the San Antonio Spurs, for the rest of the season, may become a reality.

For all but nine games in the 2017-18 season, the San Antonio Spurs have played without Kawhi Leonard, who finished third place in the 2016-17 NBA MVP voting. It started with a mysterious quadriceps injury before the season started, a shoulder ailment after his return and back to the bench after the Spurs were not pleased with his rehab on the quad.

Since the latest injury stint started on Jan. 13, the Spurs have stayed quiet on Leonard’s status for the rest of the season. That’s while the team sits No. 3 in the Western Conference, but with competition from the Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets at No. 4, 5 and 6, respectively.

Well, do not expect Leonard to be around for this end-of-the-year push to stabilize the team’s spot. ESPN’s Michael C. Wright reported that Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said he would be “surprised” if the San Diego State product returns this season.

Pop just said he'd be surprised if Kawhi returns this season.

— Michael C. Wright (@mikecwright) February 21, 2018

Here is the Popovich comments on Kawhi. Not ready to say he’s out for the season…just would be surprised. So, there’s that … pic.twitter.com/C22ntHgbOY

— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) February 21, 2018

If Leonard does not return, it’s an obvious blow to San Antonio’s championship hopes, with the need to get by the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets to reach the 2018 NBA Finals. LaMarcus Aldridge has proved more than formidable as the team’s go-to player on a 35-24 team, but will the rest of the team, who faced difficulties scoring before the All-Star Break, be enough to contribute to a rise past the conference’s elite?

Without the “Klaw,” it leaves Kyle Anderson at small forward for the rest of the season. Aside from the December knee injury that sidelined him, he has started 45 of 51 games. Rudy Gay, when healthy, will factor into the rotation at the three spot, too.

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Spurs fans may not see Leonard until the fall of 2018. By then, let’s see if the injury concerns get sorted out.

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