It’s a testament to the Spurs’ consistency and resiliency that Leonard’s quad injury, which has kept him out for all but nine games this season, had mostly gone under the radar as the team churned out wins to currently sit third in the Western Conference.
The predicament, however, has reached the point where it can’t be ignored any further as there appears to be a definite rift between Leonard and the organisation.
Though the general consensus seemed to be that Leonard would return at some point by the playoffs, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich delivered a sobering word on Wednesday, saying he would be “surprised if [Leonard] returns this season”.
Not long after, an ESPN report dropped that revealed Leonard has been medically cleared to return, but has chosen to remain sidelined after consulting with a specialist to get a second opinion on his injury.
For Leonard's return, the decision rests with his comfort level managing the discomfort with the right quad. He's been long cleared to return -- the final decision still remains with him. https://t.co/v90lARzjcj— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 22, 2018
The handling of the injury and the timetable for a potential return have caused the relationship between Leonard and the team to deteriorate, according to the report.
In the short term, it looks like San Antonio are planning to be without Leonard for the stretch run and postseason, which significantly hinders their ceiling in the playoffs.
They’ve managed a 35-24 record so far, but their system and plug-and-play style is more of a failsafe during the grind of the regular season. Talent almost always wins out in the playoffs and for as great of a coach as Popovich Is, not having arguably a top-five player in the league available for the postseason is bound to spell doom for the Spurs, whether it’s in the first or second round.
That means this year has practically been a waste for San Antonio, at least when it comes to contending. They’ve continued to develop their young guys, but Rudy Gay was signed and Paul Gasol was brought back for the team to make a significant run, especially after they looked like a serious threat to Golden State before Leonard’s injury in last year’s Western Conference Finals.
As much as a lost season will sting, the real concern for the Spurs should now be on the summer of 2019, when Leonard can hit free agency.
It would have been crazy as recently as last season to imagine Leonard playing anywhere but San Antonio for the foreseeable future, but that no longer looks anything close to a certainty. As wonderful as it sounds for Leonard to be the next Tim Duncan for the franchise, it doesn’t seem like there’s that same unwavering loyalty and this whole injury fiasco has thrown a wrench into the works.
The good news for San Antonio is they have a full year next season, presumably with Leonard at full strength, to heal any wounds and make a push that convinces Leonard to stick around.
But it also wouldn’t be a total surprise if the Spurs, who are as forward-thinking as any franchise in the league, pursue trades for Leonard this summer or ahead of next season’s trade deadline to get something of value for him before he can walk away and leave them empty-handed.
Because it’s San Antonio, we assume they’ll work things out and find a way to keep the face of their franchise.
As this mess has proved though, the Spurs aren’t completely impervious.
Know more about Sport360 Application