Not a single game of regular-season basketball has been played yet and injuries are already afoot. Kawhi Leonard will miss the Spurs’ season opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday because of a left-quad injury that has kept him out of the entire preseason, according to the San Antonio Express-News. This injury is being described as a recovering tendinopathy, which is tendon pain or stress often caused by overtraining.
“I don’t gauge it,” coach Gregg Popovich said Friday about Leonard’s timeline. “He’s still rehabbing and when he’s ready, he’ll be ready. I try not to qualify it.”
Quad issues are nothing new for Leonard. In 2012, he suffered right-quad tendinitis. In 2016, he dealt with a “non-serious” right-quad bruise that forced him to miss three games. And just last March, a right-quad contusion kept him out of one game. A few weeks ago, Popovich said this recent left-quad injury was “from last year.”
Leonard’s absence immediately becomes a key story line for the Spurs. The six-year veteran is not only an MVP candidate this season, but he’s also the anchor and superstar of a team that didn’t make any major additions this summer — all while the West got infinitely stronger around them. San Antonio’s wing depth is not, well, deep. The team has some options to soak up Leonard’s minutes — Kyle Anderson can step into the starting small forward spot; Rudy Gay, now slotted to play more 4, can slide back to small forward; or Pop may roll out some three-guard sets — but it will be hard to replicate Leonard’s game-changing talents. And in a loaded West, where every game could affect playoff seeding — and as a result, a playoff series — San Antonio can’t afford to be without Leonard, who averaged over 25 points a game last season and was again one of the best defenders in the world.
But this is also just how the Spurs roll. Popovich has been an extreme progressive when it comes to sitting players, even if it means punting on a game on prime-time TV. Nobody plays the long game like Pop.
For basketball fans, though, the lack of Leonard on the Spurs’ opening night is a bummer. Jimmy Butler, who will make his Wolves debut that night in San Antonio against a Kawhi-less defense, probably won’t have similar complaints.