How did we end up at this point for the Spurs and their two-time Defensive Player of the Year?
One of the biggest stories this NBA season has been the questions and reports around Kawhi Leonard, his injured right quad and his "disintegrating" relationship with the San Antonio Spurs.
The two-time All-Star played in nine game this season due to the injury and his inability to get on the court for practically the entire season was the main conversation topic surrounding the Spurs. Rumors about his trust in the organization or commitment to stay in San Antonio have left many thinking about Leonard's future and whether or not it will be elsewhere. Perceived shots at Leonard and his group by teammates and the organization have left many thinking a schism has been created between the two that has caused him to want to sit out.
In his six seasons prior to this one, Leonard had only played in at least 70 games twice, playing in 72 in 2015-16 and 74 in 2016-17. Leonard's rookie season was the lockout shortened 2011-12 and he played in 64 of the 66 games.
Last season, Leonard missed four of San Antonio's final five playoff games due to a sprained left ankle. The one game Leonard played in, he was forced to leave early in the third quarter after re-aggravating the injury.
The saga surrounding Leonard's injured quad though starts in September, right before the start of the preseason.
Sept. 30, 2017
Oct. 13, 2017
Coach Gregg Popovich says Leonard will not be available for the season opener and there is still no timetable for a return.
Nov. 15, 2017
Popovich says he expects Leonard to be back "sooner rather than later."
On Dec. 11, 2017, Popovich tells reporters that Leonard will be back for a Dec. 12 game against the Mavericks, but on a minutes restriction. After missing the first 27 games of the year, Leonard plays about 16 minutes in a six-point loss in Dallas in which he scored 13 points on six-of-12 shooting.
Leonard plays in San Antonio's next game, playing right around 17 minutes and scoring 12 points in a 15-point loss to the Rockets in Houston. Prior to his return, the Spurs had won eight of their last nine games.
For the rest of the month, Leonard alternates between playing and resting, and gets action in four of San Antonio's last eight games before 2018. Leonard's minutes increase during that stretch, going from around 16 in his third game back up to 20, then 26 and then 27. Leonard shoots 19-for-42 in these four contests and averages 14 points as San Antonio goes 2-2 with him in the lineup, but 4-0 in the alternating games he missed. For the month, the Spurs go 11-5, but they are just 2-4 in six games with Kawhi.
Leonard plays in consecutive games for the second time this season when he appears in a Jan. 2 game against the Knicks after playing in a Dec. 30 meeting with the Pistons. Leonard posts a season-highs with 25 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four steals in a season-high 31 minutes as the Spurs get a win in Madison Square Garden.
The game in New York was the first night of a back-to-back, so Leonard misses the Jan. 3 contest in Philadelphia, but takes the court for the eighth time this season Jan. 5 against the Suns. He scores 21 in a 14-point win and plays 29 minutes. He skips the next three games, but returns Jan. 13 to play 28 minutes and score 19 points to go along with eight boards, four assists and four steals in a 32-point home win over the Nuggets.
On Jan. 17, the Spurs announce Leonard will be out indefinitely to continue rehab on his right quad. Rumors begin to swirl about how the injury will effect Leonard's future in the NBA and then an ESPN report claims there is a rift between the 2014 Finals MVP and the Spurs because of his rehab. Leonard's uncle denies the report however, and says Kawhi and the team have a good relationship.
Leonard spends three weeks in New York getting a second opinion on the injury before returning to San Antonio to work with the Spurs staff. On Feb. 21, Popovich says he would "be surprised if he returns this season." Questions continue to come about concerning how the injury should be handled and whether or not this is something the Spurs need to be even more concerned about since Leonard was cleared by the Spurs' medical team, but opts to remain out.
On March 7, Leonard tells reporters he wants to finish his career with the Spurs. However, rumors continue and concern what he might do in 2019 free agency and what the people in his camp have been telling him.
On March 10, it is reported that San Antonio is looking to get Leonard on the court for a March 15 game against the Pelicans, but on March 13 it is reported that he will remain out and is still having the injury evaluated.
Around this same time Spurs legend David Robinson speaks up on the matter, saying any reported tension between Leonard and the team is not a big deal. Hope still remains among some that Leonard can return to lift the Spurs to the upper echelon in the West for the playoffs.
On March 21, Manu Ginobili tells reporters the team can't play with the expectation that Leonard will return this season. AN ESPN report the next day claims the team had a meeting led by Tony Parker trying to convince Leonard to come back for the playoffs, but Danny Green and a host of other Spurs immediately call it "incorrect." On March 23, Parker tells reporters he had a similar injury to Leonard going into the season, but his "was a hundred times worse."
Theories about who is leaking information regarding Kawhi and how this saga will impact his potential future with other teams continue to become an increasing topic of conversation.
The idea of how Leonard fits into the Spurs' culture and whether or not he is not invested in a future in San Antonio becomes a much bigger talking point.
The last day of the month it is reported that Leonard returned to New York for rehab about a week prior.
Popovich says on April 1 that Leonard's return will be up to Leonard and "his group" and the Spurs have no idea when he will be back. Trade rumors around Leonard now start to feel like more of a reality as potential suitors start to stick out.
After it is reported Leonard will miss San Antonio's playoff opener, it is reported the next day he will miss the entire postseason due to the quad injury. Leonard did not show up for the Spurs' playoff opener, and concerns about a divide between Leonard and the team and whether or not he was sitting out because of issues with the team became even louder.
On April 17, following a loss in Game 2 against the Warriors, Popovich spoke on LaMarcus Aldridge and how "he plays through everything," leaving many to wonder if the coach was taking a shot at Leonard for sitting practically the entire season with the right quad injury.
On May 1, ESPN released a report detailing the mess of internal issues that plagued the Spurs throughout the season and the team's relationship with Leonard. Leonard's close circle, which includes his agent Mitch Frankel and uncle, Dennis Robertson, suggested interest in a move to a larger market in Los Angeles, New York City or Philadelphia. The next day, Leonard returned to San Antonio after spending six weeks in New York City working on rehabilitation.
With the season concluded, the San Antonio Express-News reported on May 18 that the Spurs top priority of the summer is to "mend fences" in an effort to welcome Leonard back into the fold of the team. A super-max contract could be explored that would be worth an estimated $219 million.
On June 9, ESPN reported that the Spurs had "zero interest" in trading Leonard away and stated there is "no divide" in the team. The San Antonio Express News echoed the statement and reported the relationship between the team and its star "could be approaching the healing stage." Popovich and Leonard reportedly scheduled a sit-down conversation to negotiate plans for the future. Only four days later, the Express News reported Leonard had "grown uncomfortable with the Spurs" and wanted to leave San Antonio. The Lakers are reportedly his preferred destination.
San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard has Los Angeles — preferably the Lakers — at the center of his preferences for a trade destination, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2018
With a little over two weeks left until free agency opens, uncertainty remains around where Leonard will end up.