The Story: A lingering quad injury that has sidelined Kawhi Leonard for most of this season has created a “rift” that has left Kawhi’s camp “distant” and “disconnected” from the Spurs organization, according to an ESPN report Monday.
The Importance: The report described sources detailing the situation as one in which “there is work to be done to repair what has been until now a successful partnership,” which sounds serious given that the report claims “discord centering on elements of treatment, rehabilitation and timetables.” But Spurs general manager R.C. Buford rebutted the assertion that there are problems between the team and Kawhi, though he did admit that the process of dealing with Leonard’s injury has been “difficult.”
Leonard’s quad injury (tendinopathy, to be exact) has kept him out of all but nine games this season. Just last week, the Spurs announced that the forward would be out indefinitely. This season, the Spurs, currently tied for the 3-seed in the West, aren’t expected to do much more than make the second round of the playoffs. A peek at their roster makes you realize that, one, Gregg Popovich is a magician, and, two, this team is playing with house money. Without Kawhi, the Spurs are nothing more than a mediocre team with great coaching, and that won’t get them any more than a middling seed in the West.
The Takeaway: Whoo boy. Given the air of harmony that has followed the Spurs over the years, this news is surprising, even if the situation doesn’t seem inflammatory just yet.
This report shifts the concern about Leonard from his injury timetable to his future with the franchise. Leonard has a player option for the 2019-20 season, but if this news develops into something more serious, San Antonio could be forced to make a decision between their star and their system.
But Leonard’s situation could play out favorably. As Popovich said earlier this month, LaMarcus Aldridge asked for a trade after a frustrating first season in San Antonio. It was a wake-up call for Pop, who adjusted and is now helping Aldridge thrive within the Spurs’ system. Even if other team executives are firing up trade machines across the country, the smart money says that this will likely be nothing but a fly quickly swatted down by the Spurs machine.