Kawhi feels 'good,' but vague on return date
SAN ANTONIO — San Antonio Spurs star forward Kawhi Leonard addressed local media on Monday for the first time since the club’s media day on Sept. 25, but he declined to disclose any information on when he might return from right quadriceps tendinopathy.
“I feel good,” Leonard said. “Soon [the time is] to come to be able to play on the floor. I’m feeling pretty healthy right now. I think they told you guys that I’ve been playing five-on-five. So that’s where I’m at right now. It’s been good. Just still, just gotta go through a few more processes of doing that. I should be back soon.”
Having missed all 23 of San Antonio’s games this season, Leonard stepped out of the locker room Monday before the team’s matchup with the Detroit Pistons at the AT&T Center wearing a pair of metallic gold Air Jordan Retro 5s with a matching black and gold sweatshirt.
Internally, the club discussed bringing Leonard back as soon as Monday, and it’s anticipated that the forward might make an appearance during San Antonio’s three-game home stand, which began Monday against the Pistons, with matchups with Miami and Boston set for Wednesday and Friday.
Leonard said “no” when asked whether he were targeting a specific date for return, adding “just whenever, just based on how I feel is when I’ll be released to play.”
The Spurs initially announced during training camp that Leonard would miss the preseason due to the quadriceps issue, but he has been unable to return as the season has progressed, with the club racking up a record of 15-8 in his absence. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich admitted in November that Leonard hasn’t responded to rehabilitation the way the team had hoped.
“Didn’t really think about it too much, just focused in on what I had to accomplish, and that’s it,” Leonard said. “I just took it day-to-day, week-to-week. I was just focused on my injury. Just me not being able to play the game, it was a little frustrating. But my team is doing a great job right now of holding their own. A lot of people stepped up in the process, and it’s going to be great for us in the long run.”
Popovich’s standard answer this season when asked about Leonard has been that he will return “sooner rather than later.” The coach joked Monday that the “sooner” is “really much sooner now.”
“If I had your job, I’d be asking all the time, too,” Popovich said. “He’s a great player. If I remember right, it seems like it was forever, but he was first-team All-NBA. I know there’s a guy around here someplace I’m missing. I keep looking for him. Every place we go, we get [asked about Leonard’s return]. I think people would like to see him play. He’s a pretty unique dude. And he wants to get back. He doesn’t want to be sitting there.”
A two-time NBA All-Star and the team’s top defender, Leonard averaged career highs in points (25.5) and assists (3.5) last season, in addition to averaging 1.8 steals. Leonard hasn’t suited up for a game for the Spurs since Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, a series he missed due to a sprained ankle.
As part of the recovery from quadriceps tendinopathy, Leonard has worked through a rehabilitation process including individual work, 2-on-2 drills and 3-on-3 drills before receiving clearance to practice with the team. Leonard had been working out early in the process with Tony Parker and former Spurs Matt Bonner and Tim Duncan. Popovich said Leonard practiced with the team prior to its Dec. 1 win at Memphis.
Leonard declined to reveal when his right quadriceps first started to become an issue, saying “there wasn’t a point last season” when the leg became a problem. Rather, he said, “it was just wear and tear.”
Throughout the process, the club was reluctant to offer a timeline for the forward’s return, as there’s a level of unpredictability involved with rehabilitation from quadriceps tendinopathy, a source said. But with Leonard out, fourth-year veteran Kyle Anderson moved into the starting lineup and took advantage of the playing time, scoring in double figures in 12 outings before he suffered a sprained left MCL on Sunday during San Antonio’s 90-87 loss at Oklahoma City.
Popovich anticipates a quick recovery for Anderson.
“It looked really ugly. I think it’ll probably be maybe two weeks, something like that, and he’ll be back with us,” Popovich said of Anderson. “Somebody else will have to fill in, just like they did for Tony and Kawhi. Everybody gets injuries. You’ve just got to deal with it.”