This week, on Keeping Up With the Spurs: Kawhi Leonard’s teammates beg him to return to the court. Manu Ginobili says the media fooled the team into thinking Leonard was coming back. Tony Parker may or may not be taking sides. And Danny Green denies the whole thing!
Cleveland owes San Antonio a gift basket: For once, rumors with major implications are coming out of a locker room that’s not in Ohio. For a franchise that generally encounters the most turmoil at halftime, between a very sassy Gregg Popovich and a sideline reporter, the drama around Kawhi’s injury is as bizarre as Leonard’s uncommon quad injury.
Parker told the media Friday that his own quadriceps tendinopathy was “a hundred times worse” than Leonard’s. (Remember in November, when Pop said he had “never, never” seen an injury like Kawhi’s?) Athletes downplay their own injuries all the time, but it’s another thing to downplay someone else’s. And it’s another thing when you’re talking about a teammate. Parker followed up that by saying he never considered getting a second opinion, which Kawhi, of course, did: “I trust my Spurs doctors.”
On Thursday, ESPN reported that San Antonio held a players-only meeting last Saturday, after beating the Timberwolves 117-101, in which everyone reportedly begged Kawhi to return to the lineup. Adrian Wojnarowski’s report claims it was “tense” and “emotional at times,” as teammates shared their growing “frustration and confusion” at what was happening and the distance between Leonard and his camp and the rest of the team.
Parker’s comments seem to attest to that, but the chaos doesn’t end there. Both Danny Green and Brandon Paul denied ESPN’s account on Twitter. Green wrote that it “Couldn’t be anymore incorrect lol,” while Paul elected for satire:
Player: I can't wait to get home & rest it's been a long week!— Brandon Paul (@BP3) March 22, 2018
Media: Player hints he's had enough & growing tensions begin to divide locker room also 100% for sure player has asked a for more meaningful role in selection of post game meals! Read more he....
The San Antonio Express-News reported later on Thursday that the meeting wasn’t tense, and that it lasted for “roughly” five to 10 minutes.
Before the meeting was made public, Ginobili had told the media that Kawhi was “not coming back.” Though Ginobili clarified that he needed to have that mind-set, because believing Kawhi was returning was hurting the team. And the source of getting his hopes up, according to Ginobili, was the very reporters he was talking to.
“We fell for it a week ago again,” Ginobili said, “I guess you guys made us fall for it.”
Whether or not blaming the media is fair, Ginobili’s quote is quite revealing. Whatever dialogue there is between the team and Leonard must be so limited that his fellow players are relying on outside information and not, you know, their teammate.
The mystery of Kawhi Leonard’s injury began when the right quad issue first occurred. Leonard returned in December for nine games, before ultimately deciding he wasn’t ready, and stepping away again on January 13. He sought a second opinion from an outside doctor, then was medically cleared in late February, but (but!) was reportedly opting to stay out for the remainder of the season. Shortly after, he resumed workouts with the Spurs, in which Leonard “impressed” his teammates and the coaching staff with his progress.
There have been various speculations on whether this is all connected to Kawhi’s desire to leave the Spurs for good when he becomes a free agent in 2019. But it’s still the regular season, and 10 games remain on San Antonio’s schedule as the Spurs fight for playoff seeding. They’re only one half-game out of home-court advantage in Round 1. For the new, noisy and leaky Spurs, three weeks is plenty of time for more to go down.
This piece was updated at 4:09 p.m. ET on March 23 with additional information after publication.