Despite the media situation around Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich will not blame his star for any of it.
As the 2017-18 NBA season wraps up, it will be known as the one where the San Antonio Spurs faced unusual uncertainty around their team. From a playoff spot that seemed (and still is) in danger to injuries that filled the roster, this team faced hardships from start to finish. The biggest one of all, however, might be Kawhi Leonard.
For all but nine games, Leonard has sat out due to a mysterious quad injury. The team never clarified its severity or when it happened, and these might never reach the forefront. Head coach Gregg Popovich spoke on his star player’s injury a few times, including being “surprised” if he returned this season.
The latest situation involved this players-only meeting the Spurs held, according to ESPN.com and the San Antonio Express-News, with varying accounts on how “emotional” and “tense” it was. So, of course, Popovich was asked about it at Friday’s game vs. the Utah Jazz, according to ESPN (h/t CBS Sports). He called the situation “frustrating” and relayed his thoughts on if Leonard will come back:
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“I only talk about the things that I know, and I know he’s worked hard to get back. It’s been frustrating. You don’t think he wants to come back? You don’t think we want him back? But the fact that he’s not back, it frustrates everybody for all the obvious reasons. But there’s no blame to be placed, on him or anybody else. It’s just an unfortunate situation. So what we do, what we think about, we’re going to do what we’ve been doing. The guys that are playing, that’s who the team is. And if he got added to the team, well that’s great. But you have to act like it’s not going to happen because you have to be who you are. And he’s not with us right now. So this team has to have its own identity. That seems pretty logical. That’s the only way to look at this.”
Here's Spurs coach Gregg Popovich discussing the players-only meeting regarding Kawhi Leonard: "I only talk about the things that I know, and I know he's worked hard to get back. It's been frustrating. You don't think he wants to come back? You don't… https://t.co/LoQGXAHQkd
— Michael C. Wright (@mikecwright) March 23, 2018
Popovich’s stance sounded similar to Manu Ginobili’s, who said he will act as if the former MVP candidate will not return. That was before the Spurs had fewer than double-digit games left on their schedule.
It’s the Silver and Black team that played 64 of the 73 games without Leonard and might claim a playoff spot, pending they hold the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference, fall below or move higher than this spot. Even though this player impacts the game at an elite level on both ends of the court, intertwining him into the starting lineup and shifting players’ minutes, especially before the playoffs, can alter things negatively. That’s if the “Klaw” cannot play at 100 percent or if players do not adjust to roles that differ from the previous six months.
Yes, it’s impossible to place blame on Leonard if he wants to return and desires his quad to be 100 percent healthy, rather than 70, 80 or 90 percent, but what if it’s due to something on the other side? There’s potentially a big contract on the way, too, since he can get an extension worth over $200 million. Not playing may not help, but returning and reinjuring the quad has the chance to prevent this massive dollar figure.
The road to Leonard’s return will continue, whether it’s this season or to start the 2018-19 campaign. Maybe he gets traded in the offseason. Maybe not. At this point, nothing seems certain.