Kawhi Leonard's quad injury continues to baffle Gregg Popovich

Ball Don't Lie
More than a month into the season, there’s still no timeline for <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4896/" data-ylk="slk:Kawhi Leonard">Kawhi Leonard</a>’s return.
More than a month into the season, there’s still no timeline for Kawhi Leonard’s return.

We don’t expect to hear much from Kawhi Leonard, the San Antonio Spurs’ silent assassin. But the ongoing radio silence on his return to the court these days is making people a little anxious.

The Spurs have been reticent to discuss the quadriceps injury that has kept Leonard sidelined for all of the 2017-18 season. Early in October, Leonard was diagnosed with chronic tendinopathy in his right leg, a condition that can result in pain surrounding a tendon that’s become overloaded due to overuse.

Scroll to continue with content

If there was any hope for Leonard’s recovery from his significant bout of chronic tendinopathy, surely the wise, sage, but sometimes secretive Gregg Popovich would put people at ease. Unfortunately, Popovich has projected a state of confusion about Leonard’s lagging recovery process. From Michael C. Wright of ESPN.com

“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.”

Parker has been cleared to play after rupturing his left quadriceps tendon in May, but Leonard has been rehabbing since the summer and the paucity of positive updates has been jarring. A video clip of Leonard struggling to climb the stairs of the Spurs’ team plane last month only amplified concerns about his injury.

The absence of progress has mystified everyone, including Popovich, who has turned “sooner rather than later” into his standard response to questions about Leonard’s rehabilitation.

Kyle Anderson has been a competent replacement-level player in Leonard’s stead. For the long-term, though, there’s no replacement for the best two-way player in the league.

Orthopedic sports surgeon Sabrina Strickland told the San Antonio-Express-News that tendinopathy can be an extremely tricky condition to rehab:

“They were probably thinking he was a little bit better and he started training a little bit more, reactivated it and then rather then get it really, really inflamed, they backed up and started doing something a little more aggressive (in terms of treatment),” Strickland said.

“Typically, with rest and physical therapy, they get over it and get back (in action) pretty quickly,” Strickland said. “But with ones that are more chronic, that’s when players tend to have more aggressive treatment, something more evasive than just the rest-and- rehab route, such as platelet rich plasma (therapy), and that can slow them down for a while because you have to allow some time for that to work.”

In Leonard’s case, this is the third and most serious instance of a quad injury he’s suffered. Any time you mention the word “chronic” in reference to an athlete’s injury, it’s concerning.

The Spurs have gotten by in his absence, opening the season 11-7 to sit fourth in the Western Conference behind strong play from LaMarcus Aldridge and timely contributions from a mix of veterans (Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay, Manu Ginobili) and young players (Anderson, Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, Brandon Paul). To prove that they’re a viable Western contender that can present a stylistic challenge to the Golden State Warriors’ conference hegemony, though, they’ll need Leonard back and firing on all cylinders. Five weeks into the season, when they’ll be able to get that remains a mystery.

What to Read Next