Now that the tumultuous 2017-18 season has come to what can only be described as a merciful end, the Spurs new priority will be attempting to fix a big part of what made this their toughest season in 21 years: Kawhi Leonard and his chronic quad.
Not that anyone needs a reminder, but here’s the lowdown anyway. Over the summer, Leonard was diagnosed with tendinopathy in his right quadriceps, which is inflammation of the tendon typically caused by overuse. It can be very painful and is mainly cured with treatment and rest. Long story short, Leonard worked out with the Spurs medical staff, was cleared to play in December, gave it a go for nine games, then shut himself back down after feeling he wasn’t ready.
Rumors soon began to surface of a growing rift between Leonard and the Spurs over his rehab regimen, and Leonard left the team during the All-Star break to seek his own medical advice in New York City. Despite claims from all sides that reports of growing divide between the parties were inaccurate, Leonard’s prolonged absence from the team, deafening silence on the matter, and some visible frustration from Gregg Popovich when repeatedly asked about Leonard and his “group” only added fuel to the fire.
Now that the offseason is here, the topic can be avoided no longer (sorry, Pounders). It is time for the Spurs to decide what to do with Leonard. For starters, a all-hands-on-deck meeting with him is reportedly at the top of their to-do list.
With head coach Gregg Popovich expected to take the lead, the Spurs plan to meet with Leonard over the summer to gauge whether the sides can work out their differences and continue what has been largely a positive and productive partnership, sources said.
Pop managed to mend fences with LaMarcus Aldridge last summer after he had asked for a trade, so it’s not hard to imagine he can do the same with a player whom he has been through more with and presumably has a much closer relationship. Assuming they do work out their alleged differences, the next priority will be to gauge whether or not Leonard is willing to sign supermax extension (or less) with the team, but if he’s not ready to commit his future to the Spurs, things could get interesting.
The question is now whether the Spurs can patch things up enough with Leonard before July 1 to offer him a supermax extension that would keep him in San Antonio for years. Even after everything, the Spurs will give it their best shot to make that happen.
It’s arguable that they need to patch things up with him even sooner than July 1, more like before June 21 and the 2018 NBA draft. If Leonard is not interested in signing an extension, then it might be time to start considering a trade since he can become an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
Until the Spurs (or Leonard) officially announce their intentions, teams will be lining up with offers as early as draft night to try and convince the Spurs to trade away the player Pop once called “the future of the franchise”. Among other things, high draft picks would be among their requirements, and they would likely prefer to capitalize this summer.
While the Spurs remain adamant that they currently have no intentions of trading Leonard, and his sister (who operates his official fan page) continues to clap back at fans who think his loyalties lie anywhere beyond the Spurs, that can change in an instant if this meeting doesn’t end with the desired outcome.
For now we can only speculate what will go down, but regardless of anything this promises to be the Spurs’ most eventful summer since 2000, when Tim Duncan almost didn’t get on his plane to return to San Antonio from Orlando after he was kept out of the playoffs with his first knee injury. (Speaking of which, Happy 42nd to the Big Fun!)
Here’s to hoping the same outcome as 2000 awaits Spurs fans in 2018. Otherwise, The Summer of Kawhi could be the worst one San Antonio has faced yet.
Winter Summer is here, now it’s just a question of who wins the war.