The San Antonio Spurs are playing under the assumption their star player Kawhi Leonard will not be returning at least for the regular season, the team’s guard Manu Ginobili claimed.
Leonard featured in just nine regular games for the Spurs this season, with his last appearance coming in the 112-80 win over the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 13.
The 2014 NBA Finals MVP was expected to be back in mid-March after his quadriceps tendinopathy and despite appearing at the AT&T Center in San Antonio for the team’s annual picture, he did not take part in the Spurs’ 98-90 win over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.
Leonard was previously expected to be back for the game against the New Orleans Pelicans on March 15, but did not, and veteran Spurs guard Ginobili said he and his teammates will have to keep playing as if the forward will not return with just 11 matches left in the regular season.
“He is not coming back,” Ginobili said before the win over Washington, as per ESPN. “For me, he’s not coming back because it’s not helping [to think Leonard is returning]. We fell for it a week ago again. I guess you guys made us fall for it. But we have to think that he’s not coming back, that we are who we are, and that we got to fight without him. That shouldn’t be changing, at least until he is ready for the jump ball.”
Ginobili’s sentiments were echoed by fellow guard Patty Mills, who said the 2014 NBA champions have to focus on ending the regular season strongly with the players at their disposal.
“Nothing has changed,” Mills explained. “We obviously hope to get him back, and he’s told us that he has taken control of what he can control rehab-wise and injury-prevention-wise. But for us, it’s about focusing on what we can on the court. Because like we’ve said before: We’ve got to move on.”
“We’re at a very important part of the season, and we need to attack this part of the season with everything we have and not have anything else weighing on us.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich revealed last week Leonard has to be cleared by the medical staff before a decision can be made on whether he comes back.
“He’s got to be cleared by his medical staff that he’s seeing,” Popovich said. “And until he gets cleared, we can’t make a decision on when he’s coming back. So once he gets cleared, then he and I can sit down and talk and see what we think about an appropriate time to come back. But that clearance has to be obtained first.”
Whether Leonard eventually returns or not, he is expected to be offered a max contract extension worth more than $200 million over the summer, according to ESPN.
The Spurs are currently fifth in the Western Conference with a record of 42-30 and could face either the Portland Trail Blazers or Oklahoma City Thunder in the postseason depending on how the standings look. The Texas side have not missed the NBA playoffs since the 1996-1997 season.