Storyline: Kawhi Leonard Injury

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A sense of excitement and relief filled the Spurs practice facility Friday morning as the team prepared for the return of injured franchise player Kawhi Leonard. The Express-News reported Thursday that if Leonard passes some final benchmarks in his rehab, he could return as soon as Saturday on the road against Phoenix. “We are all excited that day is approaching,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said. “As I thought before and I still think, it is going to take a little bit of an adjustment to see how (Leonard) is doing, to wait until he gets into his rhythm and to re-balance the team,” Ginobili said. “I don’t know how long it is going to take. But for sure we need him if we want to have hopes of being the last team standing.”

Kawhi Leonard returning Saturday?

The wait for Kawhi Leonard’s return may finally be coming to an end. League sources tell the Express-News Leonard could make his season debut for the Spurs on Saturday against the Phoenix Suns barring any setbacks. According to sources, Leonard participate in a final workout session Thursday. The team will re-evaluate Leonard on Friday. If all goes well, and Leonard feels OK, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year will travel with the team to Phoenix after Friday’s game against Boston to play in the second game of a back-to-back.

“[Kawhi Leonard is] starting to feel in a little bit better shape and feeling more confident,” Popovich said. Once Leonard feels well enough to play, the final hurdle will be in lobbying his coach. It took Parker two weeks from the time he felt good enough to go for Popovich to put him on the floor. “When he says, ‘I feel I can go,’ then he’s got to convince me,” Popovich said. “Because I’m going to err on the conservative side. We’ll see. He’s too valuable to bring back early.”

The Spurs list Kawhi Leonard, who hasn’t played yet this season because of right quadriceps tendinopathy. With the Spurs’ 106-86 win over the Hornets on Saturday night, Leonard has sat out all 19 games this season, one more than he missed the previous two regular seasons combined. Leonard has been sidelined since just before the start of the preseason with what the Spurs are calling right quadriceps tendinopathy. The ailment first showed up last season and has resulted in what Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has termed a “difficult” rehabilitation for the two-time All-Star and two-time defensive player of the year. “They are perplexed by how long it’s taken him to get better,” a source said of the Spurs.

Leonard needs to advance through a rehabilitation process that comprises several steps, including individual work followed by 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 drills, before he can get full clearance to return to the court. According to sources, Leonard is currently engaged in on-court work but hasn’t yet advanced far enough to receive clearance to return. The club is reluctant to offer a specific timeline for Leonard’s return because there’s a level of unpredictability involved with rehabilitation from quadriceps tendinopathy, a source said.

In a storied career spanning more than 40 years at various levels, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he has “never” encountered the quadriceps issue that has kept Kawhi Leonard out of the lineup this entire season. “Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

Fans should be “cautiously optimistic” Spurs franchise player Kawhi Leonard will return to the court sooner rather than later, as coach Gregg Popovich recently put it, provided his lingering condition hasn’t been diagnosed as chronic, an expert with the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City said Tuesday. “I think he’s going to be fine if they are truly saying what is wrong with him,” said Sabrina Strickland, an orthopedic sports surgeon who has been in practice more than 20 years. “Usually, it’s just a matter of doing the appropriate type of treatment to get better tissue in that area.”

Manu Ginobili sees a silver lining in the Spurs being forced to play without star forward Kawhi Leonard. The Spurs are 6-4 without Leonard (right quadriceps tendinopathy) heading into Tuesday night’s home game against the Clippers (5-4). “Every time a team has to adjust to playing without its main player, others have to step up and gain confidence, and they end up being better players,” Ginobili said after shootaround Tuesday morning. “I think it is a great thing for guys like Bryn (Forbes), Brandon (Paul), even Kyle (Anderson), because they are having to be more responsible offensively, have more possessions, make more decisions. I think it is going end up being a great thing for the team long term. Short term, we miss him. We need him out there. When he comes back, we are going to have to re-adjust. So it’s going to take a little bit of time. But at this point, it’s making those guys step up and play a bigger role.”

Kawhi Leonard is back in action. Sort of. Not quite a full month after his sprained left ankle knocked the Spurs star from the Western Conference finals, Leonard has returned to physical activity. The rehabilitation process, under the guidance of the Spurs’ medical staff, has been cautious by design. Leonard has not commenced what might be considered full basketball activity, which is not unusual for this point on the calendar. “He’s done some training, but I don’t think anybody’s pushing him to get back on the floor this time of year,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said Monday. “It’s a good time, emotionally and physically, to take a break.”

With rest and rehab, Kawhi Leonard should fully recover from the sprained left ankle that sidelined him for most of the West finals, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich indicated Tuesday. Leonard missed the final three games of the series with Golden State after reinjuring his ankle in Game 1. “Obviously, he’s not going to do anything on it, and they’ll start rehabbing and doing what they need to do,” Popovich said. “He’s certainly not in Tony (Parker) or David (Lee’s) situation, that’s for sure.”
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December 17, 2017 | 8:22 am EST Update
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Storyline: Jackson-Anthony Dynamic