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We do not know much about Kawhi Leonard’s injury, other than the fact that the San Antonio Spurs dubbed it “right quadriceps tendinopathy,” but what little we do know is certainly not welcome news.
Do not look up tendinopathy. As with any medical-related issue you try to diagnose online, there are doomsday scenarios. Still, even the most basic definition — a disorder essentially resulting in chronic tendinitis and usually stemming from a previous injury that failed to heal properly — is tough to hear.
Here’s what we do know: The injury has lingered since last season, and it could cost Leonard the entire preseason. And here’s what Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters after the team held their two-time Defensive Player of the Year and former Finals MVP out of Saturday’s intrasquad scrimmage:
Popovich: “We’re still rehabbing his thigh, and he’ll probably miss the beginning of preseason — or a good deal of preseason — and we’re not going to put a timetable on it. He’s working at it, and we’ll get him back as soon as we can.”
Reporter: “Did he come into camp with that or is it something that occurred during the course of this week?”
Popovich: “Nothing happened this week. It’s just from last year. We’re working on things from last year, and it’s gone a little bit more slowly than we thought.”
According to Popovich, the right quad tendinopathy is unrelated to the left ankle Leonard originally injured in the Western Conference semifinals and re-injured upon landing on Golden State Warriors center Zaza Pachulia’s foot in Game 1 of the conference finals, costing him the rest of the series.
However, Leonard has missed time in each of the past two seasons with what the Spurs have termed a “bruised right quadriceps.” It is unclear whether either of those injuries are related to Leonard’s current condition or each other. He missed three games after first suffering a bruised quad during a relatively mild collision with then-Miami Heat big man Amar’e Stoudemire on March 23, 2016. He then sat out a game against the Memphis Grizzlies with the same diagnosis on Feb. 6 of last season.
A missed training camp is never good for anyone, but a veteran player of Leonard’s caliber should have no issue re-acclimating to a system he’s now spent six years in, so long as he can get healthy.
The question is whether an injury that’s now lingered at least five months will linger into the season. The Spurs finished 7-1 without Leonard during the 2016-17 regular season and won Game 6 of the conference semifinals by 39 points without their star, but San Antonio was no match for the Warriors after he went down. The Spurs blew a 22-point lead after Leonard left Game 1 and were ultimately swept in his absence.
With Chris Paul joining James Harden on the Houston Rockets and the Oklahoma City Thunder adding Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to a roster that already featured Russell Westbrook, the West already figured to be a tougher slate. Without Leonard for any significant stretch, it would be near-impossible for the Spurs to keep pace in a regular-season rabbit race. That could mean the difference between a home playoff series against the Denver Nuggets or going on the road against the Thunder.
On the bright side, after the Oct. 18 season opener against a similarly improved Minnesota Timberwolves team, the Spurs have a relatively light early season schedule, save for back-to-back games against the Boston Celtics and Warriors straddling the months of October and November. So, if Leonard isn’t ready to go at the start of the season, they could tread water for a few weeks.
Then, they’ll just have to hope another right quad injury doesn’t pop up again for a third consecutive winter, because San Antonio can hardly afford to lose arguably the league’s best two-way player and the only All-Star from a team that won 60 games and reached the conference finals last season.
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