In a surprising turn of events, All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard has elected to sit the remainder of the 2017-18 NBA season despite the fact that he has already been medically cleared to return from a quad injury. Leonard’s shocking decision presents both short and long-term implications on his future with the San Antonio Spurs, who are now facing a real possibility of losing their franchise player in the summer of 2019.
Veteran NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported on Thursday morning that Leonard has been away from his team as he seeks a second opinion from doctors in New York. The Spurs superstar only played nine games this season because of a lingering right quad tendinopathy injury. Wojnarowski added that Kawhi’s season seems to be over unless he changes his mind and decides to play through the discomfort of his injury.
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich also confirmed the reports regarding his player’s ordeal, saying he would be surprised if Leonard returns this season. While Kawhi’s injury seems to be ordinary at first glance, several NBA pundits are speculating of a growing disconnect between the Spurs and the All-NBA wingman because of the way the ballclub has mishandled his injury.
On Wednesday’s episode of ESPN First Take, Max Kellerman made a bold statement about Leonard and his future with the Spurs. He believed Leonard might have already played his last game with the organization, claiming that his stance not to re-join the team is putting more strain on his deteriorating relationship with Popovich and the entire ballclub.
“My first thought is he must be really hurt. He must be feeling that whatever showing up medically it doesn’t feel right to him. But the more people you talk to Stephen A, the more it seems it’s actually a relationship thing and that, given the history of the San Antonio Spurs, Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard, is shocking.”
The Spurs will have a big decision to make this coming summer, with Leonard eligible to a super-max deal worth $219 million over five years. The 26-year-old star is deserving of every penny of that mega contract after earning consecutive All-NBA first-team selections and blossoming into arguably the most dominant two-way player in the NBA today.
However, with Leonard’s mysterious quad injury creating unnecessary drama and possibly tension within the Spurs organization, a potential breakup might no longer be out of the realm of reality. In fact, it could happen this offseason when interested teams are expected to double down their inquiries about Kawhi’s trade availability.
Charlotte Hornets’ owner Michael Jordan has already hinted his interest in Leonard, insisting he would only trade his own franchise player Kemba Walker in exchange for an elite player like the Spurs star. The Los Angeles Lakers are also one of the teams expected to make a run at the Los Angeles-area native once he hits the free agency market in 2019. Although the possibility of a trade is very remote, the Lakers are capable of offering the Spurs a nice trade package consists of promising talents and future draft picks.
The Kawhi injury saga has been one if not the most bizarre storyline this season. No one knows when Leonard will ever return to Spurs, except himself. And sadly for all black-and-silver fans, crazy as it may be for a first-class organization like the Spurs, this unprecedented soap opera has all the potential of developing into another huge divorce story comparable to Kyrie Irving’s departure from Cleveland.