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"Its going to take somebody who has some guts, some imagination, and is not driven by old standards and old forms." Popovich said. "If somebody is smart, its actually a pretty good marketing deal — but its not about that. Its got to be that shes competent, that shes ready."
Leonards absence from the arena seemed to spark new lambasting of his decision-making. Fans had already begun questioning why Leonard wasnt playing given that the Spurs have said they have cleared him to play. (Leonards own medical team wants him to continue to rehab, apparently.) Even if Leonard cant play, couldnt he sit behind the bench in a suit and cheer his teammates on, maybe even offer his younger, less experienced fellow Spurs some tips? Wouldnt his mere presence be a tiny little boost in San Antonios Odyssean task, if for nothing more than morale? Wouldnt it show a tiny bit of commitment to the organization beyond this episode? Couldnt those rehab specialists, whoever they are, travel to Oakland to keep working on and with Leonard during the series?
The drama wheel turned again on Sunday when Spurs don Gregg Popovich was asked whether there was any chance Leonard would suit up during this series. Popovich, already exhibiting a lack of patience in conversation with the media, wasnt terribly diplomatic.
Any chance Kawhi rejoins the team during the series, Pop? Pop: “Youll have to ask Kawhi and his group that question.”
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Hours later, Yahoo!s Shams Charania cited league sources who said Leonard is expected to miss the remainder of the series and, thus, postseason. Still no one is declaring it so on the record — not the Spurs, not Leonard. Charania reports Leonards rehab is being done in collaboration and with the approval of Spurs doctors, but its clear theres some disagreement on when that rehab should have turned into maintenance for a player actually participating in NBA games.
I mean, its evident right there in the Spurs description of why Leonard isnt playing. In the box score, Leonards DNPs are being registered as return from injury management. What the quad does that euphemism even mean? Is it management of Leonards return from injury? That suggests, like, an administrative or logistic problem. Does it imply that Leonard is slowly making a return from injury management? That implies the Spurs are disputing that Leonard is currently injured: hes simply in injury management, from which he is in the process of returning. Is Injury Management the name of Leonards doctors practice, and are the Spurs awaiting Leonards return from that office?
Spurs Kawhi Leonard reportedly will shut things down for the season
Whatever it means, its a little passive-aggressive. The Spurs could stick DNP-Quad in there and skip the sniping. This is becoming a theme: San Antonio officials arent willing to flat-out say that Leonard should be playing, and that they are frustrated he wont. But they clearly think that and are frustrated by Leonard. So it leaks out in unflattering ways. You cant keep complicated emotions like this plugged up without some leeching.
Leonard could also, you know, say something. He could explain himself to his coach, his teammates, and Spurs fans. Perhaps hes talked candidly with Popovich and the players; there has been no reporting to that effect, though, and Leonard has been radio silent in public, which in fairness is not particularly odd for him.
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Its all such a mess of insular drama, something we never associate with the Spurs because of their run of success, their professional posture, their quiet excellence.
Video: Kawhi Leonard will be traded by Spurs
Heres the thing: were inching closer to a point of no return. Leonard decided to remain in New York instead of joining the team in street clothes or a uniform. That pushed the fandom, Popovich, and quite possibly other Spurs further away from Leonard. Now Leonard appears to be done. Some bond of trust is either broken or on the precipice of snapping.
With Leonard one year from unrestricted free agency, and given the divide that has opened up between Leonard and the organization this year, there is a real possibility the Spurs will decide to trade their franchise cornerstone this summer. If they dont, San Antonio will spend all of next season fearing the worst and questioning Leonards commitment on every play. Heavens help us if Leonard were to get dinged up again!
He could exercise a player option in the 2019-20 season or hit the open market and it seems as though Leonard, who has been with the Spurs since entering the league in 2011, looks like he is trying to take control of his future.
We have collectively and rightfully spent so much energy supposing where LeBron James and Paul George might end up this summer, if they leave their teams. Weve analyzed those franchises struggles and where the lawns might be more lush. But perhaps the Kawhi Leonard saga was the real story to watch all along. This might end up being the most impactful drama of a season rife with them.
SI-share-whatsapp Created with Sketch. Quickly Kawhi Leonard is expected to miss the remainder of the NBA playoffs. His absence could be the clearest sign that there is division between the Spurs and their star. By Rob Mahoney April 16, 2018 In the first game of the playoffs, Kawhi Leonard made a statement. He didnt show—not in the sports talk radio sense, but in the literal one. Leonard was nowhere to be found as the Warriors overwhelmed the Spurs, 113-92, adding one more conspicuous absence to a season full of them.
Officially, Leonard has played in just nine games this season, last appearing on January 13. Unofficially, his distance from the team has loomed over everything. The Spurs have done admirably to carry on without one of the leagues best players in the lineup, but any line of questioning regarding Leonard points back to the glaring disconnect between him and the team. When Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked about Leonards status on Sunday, he deferred to outside counsel. Youll have to ask Kawhi and his group that question, Popovich said.
According to a report from Shams Charania of Yahoo! Sports, Leonards ongoing rehabilitation from a right quad injury is expected to rule him out for the remainder of the playoffs—a determination Popovich himself did not make. “Sideline” isnt quite the right word, because as Charania notes, Leonard has taken his rehab work thousands of miles away from the Spurs:
Leonard has been rehabbing in New York because that is where his medical staff is located, and he has not been cleared by his doctors, league sources said.
His group. His medical staff. His doctors. The dividing lines between Leonard and the Spurs have never been so stark.
Gregg Popovich gave an ominous answer as to when Kawhi Leonard might return
Since arriving in San Antonio in 2011, Leonard has been widely regarded as an extension of the franchise. Even then, his stoicism was a perfect front for one of the most reticent organizations in sports. Leonard quietly went about his business because he quietly went about all things, making him the rare, viable point of comparison for another Spurs legend. There is an unmistakable Duncanity to the way that Leonard carries himself. When he then built himself into a superstar—first by becoming one of the youngest Finals MVPs in league history—his triumph was also San Antonios.
“He changed the course of our organization,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford told Lee Jenkins in 2016. “He gave us a second wind. He was the breeze in our sails.”
That was true then, but winds can change. No franchise and player are ever truly one. They might share goals and philosophy. The relationships involved may be rich and rewarding. But on some level, their interests will always diverge. Stephen Curry is not the Warriors. Russell Westbrook is not the Thunder. Even Tim Duncan, who will go into the pantheon of the game as a one-team player, was never the Spurs. He chose to stay in San Antonio because it made sense for him, but the idea of Duncan shouldnt obscure the fact that he nearly bolted for Orlando the first chance he could. “I came close to leaving,” Duncan told NBA.com in 2010. “Real close.”
These connections between superstars and the teams they play for are easy to take for granted, especially when those stars have never played elsewhere. One cant be blamed for seeing Leonard dutifully absorb Popovichs instruction during a game and thinking it might last forever—or at least the 19 years that Duncan did. Yet the situation in San Antonio has grown curious enough to earn the NBAs collective attention. Other teams take notice when Popovich suggests Leonard wouldnt be automatically activated, even if he were to return to the team. They see the thinly veiled shots at Leonards “group.” This is what teams wait for and plan for. This is why they talk themselves out of signing certain contracts for the sake of financial flexibility. You dont know when (or if!) James Harden might become available, but the Rockets put themselves in a position to be there if he ever did. Success in the league comes on the whiff of possibility.
Every update and non-update is illuminating—not because Leonard will dramatically return to save the series, but because those bits are the only overt connection between a team in the midst of its playoff run and that teams best player. Theres so much to learn from distance. It tells the story of the fissures we see, and those we dont.