San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili knows his team is in the thick of the playoff chase in the Western Conference. He has also resigned himself to the idea, it seems, that finishing off that playoff push will come without All-Star teammate Kawhi Leonard.
Leonard has been rumored to return soon for weeks and there was hope he was going to suit up for a March 15 game against the New Orleans Pelicans. That did not happen and Leonard, who is recovering from quadriceps tendinopathy in his right leg, continues to be out of the Spurs' lineup.
Before the Spurs' game last night vs. the Washington Wizards last night -- which wound up being their fifth straight win -- Ginobili said he is operating under the notion Leonard won't be back. The team held the annual team picture yesterday, which Leonard participated in, but he was not around for Wednesday's shootaround.
Team Picture Day 😃 pic.twitter.com/fW9h21d0Ui— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) March 21, 2018
Leonard showed up at the AT&T Center for the team's annual picture but wasn't present minutes later when the Spurs took part in their shootaround before Wednesday night's 98-90 win over the Washington Wizards.
"He is not coming back," veteran guard Manu Ginobili said. "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."
Sources told ESPN that Leonard's target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been "mid-March." But the team continues to list him as out on its official injury report as a component of what it calls "return-from-injury management."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would not put a timetable on Leonard's return, saying on Saturday the forward had not yet been cleared by his own team of doctors.
"Nothing has changed," Spurs guard Patty Mills said. "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."
Leonard, a top three finisher in the past two Kia MVP voting and cornerstone of the Spurs' post-Tim Duncan era, has played in just nine of the Spurs' 63 games this season. He sustained his quadriceps injury following the sprained ankle he suffered that forced Leonard to miss all but Game 1 of the Spurs' 4-0 series loss to the Warriors in the 2017 Western Conference finals.
Leonard, the 2014 Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, was first revealed to be injured in training camp. Popovich would later say that he'd never encountered an injury like Leonard's during his long coaching career. Leonard finally made his season debut on Dec. 12, scoring 13 points in 15 minutes as the Spurs lost to the Mavericks. He saw limited action in eight of the next 16 games, averaging 16.2 points in 23.3 minutes, before returning to the sideline in early January.
Since Leonard's last game played (Jan. 13), the Spurs are 13-14, but have been hot of late after logging a fifth straight win last night. After flirting with being out of the playoff picture a week or so ago, San Antonio stands this morning as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. The Spurs have 10 games left in their season and are 2 1/2 games behind the No. 3-seeded Portland Trail Blazers.
During Leonard's rehabilitation process, a stream of unusual stories came out about he and the team. ESPN reported that his relationship with the Spurs had "chilled" as the return process wore on and Popovich said last month that he'd be "surprised" if Leonard returned this season.
But Leonard disputed those reports in early March, asserting that he said he and the Spurs had always been on the same page during his rehab and that he "for sure" hoped to finish his career in San Antonio.