FOR days I have been trying to write this Kawhi Leonard article. I have been blankly staring at my laptop screen trying to think of a way to explain what has happened with the San Antonio Spurs superstar this year. Arguably the best two-way player in the league, Leonard established himself as an MVP candidate last year only to see his 2017-18 season hampered by a mysterious quad injury. With just nine games to his name for the year not only is Leonard’s return up in the air, but it may have caused a fracture in his relationship with the seemingly perfect Spurs franchise.
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IT’S a shame we have been robbed of what should have been a prime season from Kawhi Leonard. Fresh off leading San Antonio to 61 wins a season ago, Leonard and the Spurs fell short of an NBA Finals appearance, losing to the Warriors in the West Finals in a four-game sweep. However, Leonard only managed to play 24 minutes in that series, tweaking and aggravating a previous ankle injury when he landed on Zaza Pachulia’s foot following a jump shot.
WHILE he recovered to get over the ankle sprain in the offseason he was then dealt an injury to his right quadriceps. What we now know is quadriceps tendinopathy, essentially an inflamed tendon at the front of his right thigh has seen Kawhi spend close to 90% of the season on the sidelines. At times we were tempted into believing a return was close, only to have reports surface and tell us that Leonard is staying on the bench.
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IT has got to the point in the year where we can’t expect to see Leonard back at 100% in any capacity. Spurs teammate Manu Ginobili addressed the media a few days ago stating “…we have to think that he’s not coming back, that we are who we are, and that we got to fight without him”. This lead to a players-only meeting being called after the Spurs game against Minnesota where the San Antonio players basically begged Kawhi Leonard to return, imploring him how much they need the All-NBA forward. In response, he stood firm claiming he has a good reason for remaining on the bench until his injury fully heals.
FROM all accounts the Spurs doctors have cleared Leonard to play, however, Kawhi’s own personnel and doctors are advising against him taking to the floor. Rumours of a rift between the dual Defensive Player of the Year and his franchise are floating around, which is understandable if these reports mentioned above are true. Of course, the Spurs players and Gregg Popovich themselves insist that their relationship with Kawhi is still fine, but all other signs point to the contrary.
SAN Antonio aren’t used to dealing with these types of dramas. For decades the Spurs organisation has been a picture of consistency and professionalism. They are on the verge of winning 50+ games for the umpteenth time in franchise history as they try to stay in the vicious playoff hunt. Instead of positives, for a change their narrative this year revolves around one of the games biggest stars refusing to step back onto the court and play for the team.
WITH just 10 games left in San Antonio’s regular season they find themselves at 42-30 sitting 6th in the Western Conference. Although a five-game winning streak has come at a perfect time, their spot in the playoffs isn’t guaranteed as the race for one of the eight seeds is insanely close heading into the final stretch of the season. You would think in a situation like this a faithful franchise player would be doing everything he could to return to the court and help his team. And yet Kawhi remains glued to the sidelines in suits.
DOES this spell doom for Leonard and the Spurs relationship? Absolutely not. We could very well still see him this season and if not then surely next year he will bounce back. Or will he? Fingers crossed this quadriceps tendinopathy isn’t the start of an injury-plagued chapter in Leonard’s career, because if it is then San Antonio needs to dramatically change their game plan for the future. Regardless of when Leonard will return to the court and where the Spurs finish this season they clearly need to get on the same page or this could just be the beginning of a long, drama-filled saga.
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