Hours after Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich told the media on Wednesday he would be surprised if Leonard returned this season, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Leonard has been medically cleared to play, but for the moment has elected to sit out.
The fact the Spurs have racked up the third best record in the West (35-24), nearly entirely without injured All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard has given fans reason to believe they were a Kawhi return away from being title contenders.
While recovering from right quadriceps tendinopathy, Leonard told the organization several times during his rehabilitation process he was not comfortable with his ability to play through the injury.
When asked if the Spurs were ready to announce Leonard is done for the season, Popovich responded "I'm ready to say what I just said". People are definitely trying to fill the role as best they could. But we have a job to do.
However, Popovich stressed that Leonard had not suffered an aggravation of the injury, which had caused him to miss the entire pre-season and insisted the franchise would not rush the player back. "We had our run in the East with Miami, Golden State is having their run". I think we'll be happy if he comes back.
Earlier this season, another report stated that there was a rift between Kawhi and the team centered around his injury.
Leonard made his season debut on December 12. He averaged 16.2 points and 4.7 rebounds per game this season before suffering a setback.
"We've got to move on", Popovich said. After all, rumors have sprouted that Leonard wants to leave the Spurs, and doesn't feel they will properly surround him with talent for a championship.
That's undoubtedly true. When at his best, Leonard is one of the top players in the league on both ends of the floor, capable of locking up an opposing team's best player while also dropping 30-plus points in their face. Wishing and hoping doesn't do anybody any good.
Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart was cleared to practice on Wednesday after he missed 11 games due to a hand injury he suffered when he punched a picture frame at a team hotel, but Smart said the injury almost required season-ending surgery.