The Kawhi Leonard situation just keeps getting weirder. After returning from the All-Star break confident in the second medical opinions he received, Leonard got back to working out and has looked impressive in 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 workouts. He apparently had a goal of returning last week for an all-important game against the New Orleans Pelicans. He didn’t. He also didn’t return for another must-win game two nights later against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
If ESPN sources are to be believed (again), this was apparently a turning point for Spurs players, and according the Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard’s teammates reportedly held a players-only meeting following the Minnesota game imploring him to either come back and play or explain why he can’t.
Spurs guard Tony Parker, a four-time NBA champion, quarterbacked the meeting with his teammates and Leonard after Saturday night’s victory over Minnesota, league sources said.
The conversation was described as tense and emotional at times, league sources said.
Several teammates spoke up, expressing frustration and confusion over a growing divide with Leonard that has created significant tension between the franchise star and the Spurs, league sources said.
Leonard, 26, was resolute in response, insisting that he had good reason for sitting out all but nine games with a right quad injury this season, league sources said.
Assuming the timing of the meeting is accurate, it creates an interesting timeline compared to what his teammates have recently said. It was at shoot-around on March 15 — the day of the Pelicans game — when Parker spoke up saying it would eventually make no sense for Leonard to return so late in the season.
Prior to the Minnesota game, Pau Gasol spoke up in his teammate’s favor, imploring fans not to judge Leonard’s injury and insisting that the players have his back. The meeting took place that night.
At shoot-around yesterday, Manu Ginobili said the Spurs are operating under a mindset that Leonard will not return this season. While Manu never said this was absolutely the case or claimed to have any inside on knowledge on when/if he will return, it definitely makes you wonder what all Leonard said in that meeting about his confidence in his quad if his teammates are taking this route just a week after believing Leonard was about to return.
Gregg Popovich also said there in no set date that requires Leonard to either return or be done for the season, but time is quickly running out with only ten games left in the regular season. All sides — from Leonard to Pop, RC Buford and his teammates — have also insisted there is no friction between the parties.
Of course, it should be noted that Danny Green and Brandon Paul have spoken up on Twitter, calling the ESPN report incorrect (surprise!):
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....
Also, according to Spurs Nation writer Jabari Young, the meeting was not “tense and emotional” as ESPN put it, but rather his teammates just wanted to check up on his status instead of having to rely on the media, which Manu subtly hinted at in his quotes yesterday.
The Spurs are still expected to offer Leonard a super-max contract extension this summer, which is a no-brainer, and there’s no reason to think he won’t accept it. If money is what he (or his uncle) is after, he’ll get far more of that here than anywhere else. Plus, Leonard has already stated that he plans to be a Spur for life.
The Spurs seem to have accepted their fate this season as a team minus its superstar that could deal and upset or two in the playoffs but likely won’t seriously contend for a title. On the bright side, they’ve gotten a lot of experience for their younger players to help plan for the future, and it’s looking more and more like they won’t be sacrificing their playoff streak as a result. Even if this season ends without Leonard stepping foot on the floor again, it can be still considered a mild success for a variety of other reasons, which at this point is good enough.