It has been a frustrating season so far for star forward Kawhi Leonard, who missed the first two months of the season due to a quad injury, then appeared in just nine games before being shut down again. According to Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright of ESPN, “months of discord” related to the treatment and rehabilitation of that injury has had a “chilling impact” on Leonard’s relationship with the Spurs and their coaching staff.
As Wojnarowski and Wright note, the Spurs have typically had terrific relationships with their star players under head coach Gregg Popovich and GM R.C. Buford, but multiple sources told ESPN that Leonard and his camp have been “distant” and “disconnected” from the organization. There’s work to be done to repair the apparent rift, per Woj and Wright.
For his part, Buford disagrees with the idea that there’s any sort of tension between the Spurs and their superstar, though he admitted that the injury has been a vexing and frustrating one for both the player and team.
“There is no issue between the Spurs organization and Kawhi,” Buford told ESPN. “From Day 1 all parties have worked together to find the best solutions to his injury. … This has been difficult for everyone. It’s been difficult for Kawhi. He’s an elite-level player. It’s been difficult for the team, because they want to play with a great teammate. And it’s been difficult for our staff. Historically, we’ve been able to successfully manage injuries. This rehab hasn’t been simple and it hasn’t gone in a linear fashion.”
Even when Leonard returned to the court for the Spurs in December, he wasn’t playing at his usual level, or with his usual frequency — he didn’t play with fewer than two days rest all season. According to ESPN’s report, Leonard told the Spurs at different stages of his rehab process that he wasn’t confident in his ability to play through the ailment. The club announced last week that he’d be shut down indefinitely as he focused on rehabbing his quad.
The Spurs have already dealt with one disgruntled star during the 2017/18 league year. The team responded to LaMarcus Aldridge‘s offseason trade request by working to fix its relationship with the big man, and Aldridge has been better than ever for San Antonio this season. So even if the partnership between Leonard and the Spurs is on shaky ground – which Buford denies – there’s reason to believe the two sides will work things out.
Leonard will be eligible for a Designated Veteran Extension during the 2018 offseason. If he’s not extended, he could reach free agency as early as 2019 by turning down his player option for 2019/20.