Gregg Popovich would be 'surprised' if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

It looks like we won’t see Kawhi Leonard suit up for the San Antonio Spurs again this season.

With the team reconvened after the All-Star break, head coach Gregg Popovich told reporters Wednesday that he would be “surprised” if Leonard returned to the floor this season. Leonard has appeared in only nine games this season while nursing a quad injury that apparently just cannot get healthy.

Popovich would not officially rule Leonard out for the year, but at this point he wonders if it would be realistic for Leonard to return to the lineup.

“I’ll be surprised if he returns this season,” Popovich said. “We only have X number of games left in the season and he’s still not ready to go. If by some chance he is, it’s going to be pretty late into the season. It’s going to be a tough decision. How late do you bring somebody back? I’m just trying to be honest and logical. I’d be surprised if he gets back this year.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Wednesday night that Leonard has been medically cleared to play, but the decision is ultimately in his hands. Leonard, Wojnarowski reported, has been in New York City visiting various medical professionals for additional opinions on his injury.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the San Antonio Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said. If Leonard returns, it will be because he has decided he can manage the pain of the injury, according to the sources.

Leonard, a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, missed the season’s first 27 games before finally returning to action against Dallas on Dec. 13. From there, he saw action in eight of the team’s next 16 games, averaging 24 minutes per game in the process, before he was again shut down “for an indefinite period of time” on Jan. 17.

That announcement from the Spurs came two days after Leonard went through warm-ups for the Jan. 15 game against Atlanta. It would have been his first time playing with fewer than two days of rest all year, but Popovich told reports that Leonard “didn’t feel right.” Two days later, he was put on ice once again.

A week later, an report emerged detailing an apparent level of “discord” over the handling of Leonard’s injury that has had a “chilling impact” on his relationship with the franchise. Words like “distant” and “disconnected” were used to describe Leonard’s rapport with the team.

Even with Leonard sidelined, the Spurs are right in the middle of the Western Conference playoff race. At the All-Star break, San Antonio sat in third in the West, but the No. 3 seed Spurs and the No. 8 seed Pelicans are separated by only three games in the standings.

Entering the break, San Antonio had lost five of its past six games, including three straight. As we enter the stretch run of the season, it seems like Popovich wants his team to press on with the distinct possibility that Leonard will not be a part of the equation.

“We’ve got to move on,” Popovich said. “At this point, the team has to realize that this is who we are, this is who we have. Wishing and hoping doesn’t do anybody any good. We’ve got to do what we can to be the best team possible as the season winds down.”

Kawhi Leonard has played in only nine games this season for the San Antonio Spurs. (Getty Images)
Kawhi Leonard has played in only nine games this season for the San Antonio Spurs. (Getty Images)

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Sam Cooper is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!