Reported rift growing between Spurs and their best player
The San Antonio Spurs have been one of the most well-run franchises in American sports this century.
They’ve won five championships in the last 20 years and are a model of consistency. They have appeared to do what very few franchises can do, move seamlessly from one era to the next with very little turbulence.
But now, the face of the new era of the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard, is reportedly upset with management over an injury that has kept him on the sidelines for all but nine games this season.
Multiple sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright that Leonard and his agent are “distant” and “disconnected” from the organization.
“Months of discord centering on elements of treatment, rehabilitation and timetables for return from a right quadriceps injury have had a chilling impact on San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard’s relationship with the franchise and coaching staff, league sources told ESPN,” according to the report by Wojnarowski and Wright
Leonard — two-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time first-team All NBA — missed the first 27 games of the season due to the quadriceps injury. His first game back was Dec. 12 and he played in nine games over the next month.
But after the team’s Jan. 13 game against Denver, he was put back on the shelf as he was struggling with the injury.
KAWHI LEONARD: It's mostly in your head. Trust your body and just play. It will be OK.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) January 16, 2018
The team listed Leonard as out indefinitely.
Despite what sources told ESPN, Spurs general manager R.C. Buford says there is nothing to see here.
“There is no issue between the Spurs organization and Kawhi,” Buford told ESPN. “From Day 1, all parties have worked together to find the best solutions to his injury.”
But Buford admits that Leonard’s rehab has not gone as well as hoped.
“This has been difficult for everyone,” Buford added. “It’s been difficult for Kawhi. He’s an elite-level player. It’s been difficult for the team, because they want to play with a great teammate. And it’s been difficult for our staff. Historically we’ve been able to successfully manage injuries. This rehab hasn’t been simple, and it hasn’t gone in a linear fashion.”
Buford said the team used the same tendon experts it used for Tony Parker’s injury last May, but with different results.
“We sought outside expertise with the best tendon experts in the world,” Buford said. “It worked beautifully for Tony [Parker], but it hasn’t worked the same for Kawhi.”
Parker ruptured his left quadriceps last year in the playoffs, a more severe injury, according to the team. But Parker was back in action seven months later.
Leonard’s injury occurred last season as well, and he was supposed to be out for the preseason and maybe a few regular season games.
Obviously, that has not been the case.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters last week after Leonard was being shut down indefinitely because the team is being cautious with their superstar.
Kawhi Leonard Update: pic.twitter.com/2jb5svTAR2
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) January 17, 2018
“He didn’t reinjure it or anything but he was having pain — not right after games, but maybe the next day at noon or that kind of thing and so the pain wasn’t dissipating,” Popovich told reporters.
“It wasn’t going in the right direction, it was going the other way and you’ve got to be confident in your body to go out there and play at the level that he’s expected to play,” Popovich added.
“So if we’re going to err, I’m going to do it on the conservative side and just decided we’re going to go back to the rehab and the strength and all that, try to get him more whole before we get him back out on the court.”
Even without Leonard, the Spurs are playing well. They are 30-18, tied for the No. 3 seed in the conference with the Timberwolves, but trailing Golden State and Houston.
With Leonard’s uncertainty, it will be interesting to see if the Spurs make any moves at the trade deadline to make a run in the playoffs.
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