Just like they did at the start of training camp, the San Antonio Spurs announced Wednesday that they plan to keep All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely as he continues to recover from right quadriceps tendinopathy.
“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.”
When asked about it before Wednesday’s game in Brooklyn, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich ruled out the possibility of Leonard missing the rest of the season.
The Spurs initially announced during training camp that Leonard would miss the preseason because of the quadriceps issue, but the recovery process lingered into December, with Popovich admitting in November that the forward was “coming along more slowly” in rehabilitation than 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 comprising several steps, including individual work and two-on-two and three-on-three drills, before receiving clearance to practice fully with the team. Leonard had been working out with veteran point guard 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 said 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 last Saturday. “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 Saturday after missing three games with a shoulder injury. He played 28 minutes, contributing 19 points and 8 rebounds. Leonard appeared to be finally close to full strength in San Antonio’s 112-80 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
Aldridge has averaged 34.1 minutes and 18.0 field goal attempts per game since the beginning of December, and it’s highly unlikely the Spurs will limit the power forward’s minutes moving forward. Aldridge told ESPN.com that during a heart-to-heart sit-down discussion with Popovich over the summer, he actually asked the coach for more minutes this season.
“I think I’ve always been able to do it. I don’t want to sound arrogant. I think that’s who I’ve been,” Aldridge said. “I think having the talk with Pop helped it happen. Having the talk, and telling him I play better when I’m playing more minutes, and maybe we can try to find different ways for finding rest.
“I struggle with playing low minutes, and trying to keep a rhythm. I’ve just never been able to do it. When I was really rolling in Portland, I was top five in minutes every season. So that’s kind of who I’ve become. So, I think Pop understood that, and he’s letting me play more minutes. We’ve all kind of enjoyed how I’ve come along playing more minutes. I’m staying in great shape. I’m feeling good. My rhythm is better. Being out there more, this is just me.”