“We only have X number of games left in the season and he’s still not ready to go,” Popovich says in a video tweeted by Jabari Young of The San Antonio Express-News. “If by some chance he is, it’s going to be pretty late into the season and it’s going to be a tough decision, you know, how late you bring somebody back. That’s why I’m just trying to be honest and logical. I’ll be surprised if he gets back this year.”
Leonard missed the first two months of the season with a lingering quad injury, then was shut down by the team after appearing in just nine games. He was originally expected to miss just the preseason when the injury was discovered at an intersquad scrimmage in late September, but his debut date kept getting pushed back.
Tensions over the injury and the prolonged recovery process have reportedly led to some behind-the-scenes discord between Leonard and the organization. ESPN reported last month that a rift has developed between Leonard’s camp and San Antonio’s front office.
Leonard is coming off his best NBA season, averaging 25.5 points per game and finishing third in last year’s MVP voting. The Spurs had been hoping he could return for a late-season playoff push, but now that appears unlikely. San Antonio entered the All-Star break in third place in the Western Conference, but two games ahead of the ninth-place Clippers in the loss column.
“We’ve got to move on,” Popovich added. “The team has to realize this is who we have, this is who we are, this is who’s going to play, and wishing and hoping doesn’t do anybody any good.”