Just like they did at the start of training camp, the San Antonio Spurs announced Wednesday that they plan to keep star forward Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely as he continues to recover from right quadriceps teninopathy.
“Kawhi has made significant progress and continues to move forward in his rehabilitation,” Spurs general manager RC Buford said. “This is the best approach for the next steps in his return to play.”
The Spurs initially announced during training camp that Leonard would miss the preseason due to the quadriceps issue, but the recovery process lingered into December, with coach Gregg Popovich admitting in November that the forward was “coming along more slowly” in rehabilitation than the way the club had hoped.
Leonard missed San Antonio’s first 27 games this season because of the condition, which causes pain and weakness in the knee. The two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year has appeared in just nine games this season as the Spurs have restricted his playing time to ensure a full recovery.
Despite playing just 23.3 minutes per game, the 26-year-old Leonard is averaging 16.2 points per game.
“For us to go where we want to go, we both have to play well,” LaMarcus Aldridge told ESPN. “Golden State is a prime example, Houston with James Harden and Chris Paul. It’s not impossible to co-exist. I feel like I’m playing more confident, I’m playing better this year, where it’s not going to be an issue. When he’s back 100 percent, he’s going to be who he was and I’m going to be who I am. I feel like that’s going to make us better down the stretch.”
Leonard also missed time with what Popovich said is a partial tear in his left shoulder.
A two-time NBA All-Star, Leonard averaged career highs in points (25.5) and assists (3.5) last season while also averaging 1.8 steals. When Leonard debuted against the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 12, he hadn’t suited up to play for San Antonio since Game 1 of last season’s Western Conference finals, a series he missed due to a sprained ankle.
As part of the recovery from quadriceps tendinopathy, Leonard had been working through a rehabilitation process comprised of several steps, including individual work, two-on-two and three-on-three drills, before receiving clearance to practice fully with the team. Leonard had been working out with Tony Parker, who was recovering from a ruptured quadriceps tendon, as well as former Spurs players Matt Bonner and Tim Duncan.
It’s unknown whether the Spurs plan to re-enter Leonard into a similar protocol for recovery.
Popovich’s had been saying Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” during Leonard’s absence earlier in the season, and despite the conservative approach to bringing back the forward, San Antonio finds itself back still involved in the rehabilitation process. Sources said however that Leonard did not experience a setback.
“It’s been pretty hit and miss the entire season,” Popovich said on Jan. 13. “Even with minutes limitations, when the guys come back like Tony [Parker], Danny [Green] and Kawhi, it makes it a little awkward, a little weird for the guys to really get into a rhythm. But that’s the way it is. We just have to deal with it. Hopefully, everybody will stay healthy after tonight’s game, and we can put something together.”
Throughout Leonard’s recovery, the club was reluctant to offer a timeline for his return, as there’s a level of unpredictability involved with rehabilitation from quadriceps tendinopathy, according to a source. With Leonard out of action, fourth-year veteran Kyle Anderson moved into the starting lineup, and took advantage of the extra minutes, forcing Popovich to admit he needs to be on the floor more, even when Leonard is back in the rotation.
Anderson will return to the starting lineup with Leonard out indefinitely.
Leonard returned to action on Jan. 13 after missing three games with a shoulder injury, and played 28 minutes, contributing 19 points and eight rebounds. Leonard appeared to be finally close to full strength in San Antonio’s 112-80 win over the Denver Nuggets.
“He looks confident in his body, and he wasn’t really winded tonight either, which is surprising,” Popovich said after the game. “So, he’s coming along well.”