Kawhi Leonard's return from his quad injury has been slow and confusing. Initially expected to miss just the entire preseason, Leonard didn't play until Dec. 12. But now, after playing in nine games over the past six weeks or so, the San Antonio Spurs have shut Leonard down once again to rehab the quad.
It's a bizarre saga made even more confusing given Tony Parker had a worse quad injury, and returned from surgery before Leonard was able to make it back. Now, an ESPN report says that the twists and turns in Leonard's rehab are causing discord between the star and the Spurs. Via ESPN:
Under president and coach Gregg Popovich and general manager RC Buford, the Spurs have a two decades-long history of strong relationships with star players, but multiple sources describe Leonard and his camp as "distant" and "disconnected" from the organization.
Beyond the current rehab for the right quadriceps injury that has caused Leonard, an All-NBA forward, to miss most of the regular season, there is work to be done to repair what has been until now a successful partnership.
Spurs GM R.C. Buford, however, denied that there are any problems.
"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."
Buford described a frustrating process of rehabilitation for what has been an elusive solution to an injury.
"This has been difficult for everyone," Buford told ESPN. "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."
"We sought outside expertise with the best tendon experts in the world," Buford told ESPN. "It worked beautifully for Tony (Parker) but it hasn't worked the same for Kawhi."
Additionally, Leonard's camp denied the report, saying there was "nothing true to that story. Via the San Antonio Express-News:
The Spurs relationship with Kawhi Leonard is far from strained, according to a relative.
Disputing a report from ESPN, that described Leonard and his camp as "distant" and "disconnected" from the team, Leonard's uncle, Dennis Robertson, says there is no tension between the two parties.
"There is nothing true to that story," Robertson told the Express-News hours after the story published. "Kawhi's camp and the Spurs are how they've always been – doing the right thing for the team and the right thing for Kawhi."
For an organization that has been the class of the NBA for two-plus decades now, this is quite a surprising report.
What to make of it, however, is hard to say. It's really no surprise that Leonard would be frustrated with a seemingly minor injury costing him at least half of the season and possibly more. It's also not shocking in the slightest that Buford would come out an deny the reports.
What matters most is how long whatever disconnect there is between Leonard and the organization lasts. The worst-case scenario, obviously, is that this devolves into a situation where Leonard wants out of San Antonio.
Given the Spurs' organizational stability, that would seem unlikely. But then again, Tim Duncan was with Doc Rivers away from leaving the Spurs to join the Magic years ago.