Kawhi Leonard speaks, and the first public words out of the injured San Antonio Spurs forward’s mouth since media day were as understated as you might expect from the NBA’s quietest superstar.
“I feel good,” he told reporters before San Antonio’s win over the Detroit Pistons. “Soon to come.”
Prior to tonight's game, Kawhi Leonard met with media members. pic.twitter.com/ugy51QDWgT
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) December 5, 2017
Leonard has yet to play this season due to what the Spurs termed “right quadriceps tendinopathy,” which is essentially chronic tendinitis that usually results from a previous injury that failed to heal properly. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich conceded during the preseason that Leonard’s injury was lingering from last season, when he missed time for a second straight year with a bruised right quad.
Popovich provided semi-regular vague updates on Leonard’s status every so often, but the mystery around the two-time Defensive Player of the Year’s injury only increased earlier this month when the coach said, “He’s just coming along more slowly for whatever reason,” and left his return open-ended.
Leonard’s surprise appearance in an AT&T Center corridor on Monday was the best sign that we could soon see the player Michael Jordan called “the best two-way player in the game right now” in August.
“It’s been a little wait,” said Leonard, “but I’m feeling pretty healthy right now.”
He’s back to 5-on-5 full-contact work in practice, the final obstacle Popovich presented before Leonard works himself into game shape and rejoins the team. That may come this week — maybe even Friday when the league-leading Boston Celtics arrive — per Express-News columnist Mike Finger:
Although he did not elaborate, a return to game action is expected by the end of this week. A source with knowledge of the situation said the coaching staff discussed the possibility of bringing him back as early as Monday’s game against the Pistons, but decided that waiting a few extra days wouldn’t hurt.
There is, of course, no reason to rush Leonard back now. The Spurs machine is off to a 16-8 start, firmly entrenched in third place in the Western Conference, without the only current All-Star on the roster. They’re on pace for another 55-win season, with or without Leonard. But even Popovich understands why the media had so many questions for Leonard on Monday night: The city — and the league as a whole — is eager to see one of the game’s perennial MVP candidates back in uniform.
“If I had your job, I’d be asking all the time, too,” Popovich told reporters, via the Express-News. “I think people would like to see him play. He’s a pretty unique dude. And, you know, he wants to get back. He doesn’t want to be sitting there.”
It’s certainly not Leonard’s glowing persona that people are eagerly awaiting. The media pulled teeth trying to get answers out of the 26-year-old All-NBA wing, and they got few answers of substance.
Is he targeting a specific game for his return? “No,” he said, “just whenever.”
Did the extended recovery timeline surprise him at all? “I didn’t really think about it too much.”
Was it difficult at all? “No, not really.”
At what point last season did it start bothering you? “It wasn’t a point in last season.”
Was it in the offseason, then? “Just wear and tear.”
How painful was it? “It’s hard to say.”
Did you ever seek a second opinion? “I don’t really want to get into the details of that.”
So, I guess we learned that “wear and tear” was the injury that caused him to sit out more games than 35-year-old teammate Tony Parker did after rupturing his quadriceps tendon in the playoffs last year. Leonard did call it “frustrating” not being able to play, but he elaborated little beyond that emotion.
Still, it was good to see Leonard, if only for three minutes. Hopefully, “I feel good” and “soon to come” are just Kawhi-speak for “the hamstring is totally fine” and “I’ll see you Friday against the Celtics.”
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