At the beginning of the 2017-2018 NBA season, we thought we had it all figured out. It was gonna be the Cleveland Cavaliers versus the Golden State Warriors part IV. The main contenders would be the usual suspects like the Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets and of course the San Antonio Spurs had to be right there. Well here we are on the cusp of the playoffs and things look totally different.
The Spurs situation is significantly different from what we thought it would be. Kawhi Leonard has been dealing with a right quadriceps injury that was revealed back in September. Since then, Leonard has come back to play nine games and returned right back to the sidelines with the same injury.
The mystery behind all of this is how severe is this injury that has kept him out so long? He didn’t play his first game until December 12th, not playing in any back-to-back games for about a month. Then in mid-January, the Spurs reported he is out indefinitely so he can further rehab the injury. In early February, Leonard goes to New York for three weeks while getting further consultation on the quad.
During this time, coach Greg Popovich told reporters that he would be surprised if Leonard returns this season. In early March, Leonard himself addressed the media and when asked about his return he responded “Soon”. With a little over a week left in the regular season, soon hasn’t come yet.
What has come instead of an active Kawhi Leonard is another trip to New York. Now there are rumblings of Leonard wanting out of San Antonio and the Spurs are fed up. Their title hopes have turned into an even bigger obstacle now. Not only is Leonard not there to play, but having to answer these questions will be a distraction to the rest of his teammates.
Now there are reports of other NBA teams lining up trades offers to acquire the two-time defensive player of the year. A player of his talent could really change the balance of power in the league. Leonard has a player option for the 2019-2020 season and can opt out after next season. It might be time for the Spurs to sell high and get as much as they can for him. In any event, the relationship is strained between the two sides and maybe beyond repair.
This situation is a little more tricky than the Spurs are used to handling. You could trade Leonard but what would the real reason be? What message does it send to the rest of your roster (and future players) that you got fed up with a guy because he wanted to make sure he was healthy to play? Keeping him is starting to seem like a longshot and both sides might be better off separating.
Moving a player of Leonard’s caliber could be NBA suicide but the Spurs always seem to have a backup plan. In any event, they need to resolve this issue soon before it lingers into 2018-2019 season.