Coming off a career season that saw him earn All-NBA First Team honors and a third-place finish in Most Valuable Player voting, Kawhi Leonard entered the 2017-18 NBA campaign as a trendy pick to reach the top of the mountain and hoist the Maurice Podoloff Trophy come year’s end. But after missing the entire preseason with left quadriceps tendinopathy, Leonard also stayed on the sidelines for the San Antonio Spurs’ season-opening win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday … and, from the looks of things, he might not be trading in his suit for a uniform any time soon.
Larry Ramirez of San Antonio ABC affiliate KSAT-TV caught Leonard boarding the Spurs’ charter flight for their trip to Illinois to take on the Chicago Bulls on Saturday. The footage is a cold cup of coffee for Spurs fans and those who enjoy watching Leonard’s alternately brutal and balletic game:
— Larry Ramirez (@LRam2) October 20, 2017
The 26-year-old forward moves up the steps slowly, gingerly, and very carefully. It’s entirely possible that he’s just sore from a rehab session; still, this not exactly what you’d hope to see from the player around whom San Antonio’s entire team revolves on both ends of the floor.
The Spurs should be able to weather a short-term Leonard absence. They knocked off Minnesota behind a strong performance from just-extended star LaMarcus Aldridge (25 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks) and solid supporting play from the likes of back-from-injury free-agent signing Rudy Gay, shooting guard Danny Green and emerging second-year point guard Dejounte Murray. Their upcoming schedule mostly keeps them away from AT&T Center, with five of their next six games coming on the road, but they’ll be facing teams likely to be in the lottery mix (the Bulls, Magic and Pacers) or that are dealing with their own injury issues (the Heat, who are working without Dion Waiters, and Celtics, without Gordon Hayward). They’ve also got the Raptors, who looked awfully good in their first game, but they get them at home.
It’s not unreasonable to suggest that Gregg Popovich could keep the team afloat for the next couple of weeks if Leonard needs to stay on the shelf that long. But even a team as adept at adapting as San Antonio can’t tread water forever.
The Spurs need Kawhi Leonard, all of him, to have any hope of achieving their goals this season. There’s plenty of time before the playoffs, of course, and rest, rehabilitation and treatment can all do wonders. In a conference as competitive as the West, though, every win in October and November could mean the world in the race for home-court advantage come April and May, and San Antonio would sure love to have an operational Leonard to bank as many as possible. But this video — as brief and inconclusive as it might be — does not inspire much confidence that he’s particularly close to a return to high-level athletic competition.
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