Reports: San Antonio Spurs held players-only meeting with Kawhi Leonard

According to ESPN, players implored All-Star forward to return to lineup

Kawhi Leonard has not suited up for the San Antonio Spurs since mid-January. As the team closes in on the final 10 games of its season, a players-only meeting was held with Spurs players and Leonard in an attempt to get him back in the lineup soon.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and the San Antonio Express-News‘ Jabari Young, the Spurs and Leonard held a players-only meeting after San Antonio’s 117-101 home win against the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 17. Wojnarowski reports that the purpose of the meeting was to implore Leonard to return to the lineup and help the team in its playoff push:

Spurs guard Tony Parker, a four-time NBA champion, quarterbacked the meeting with his teammates and Leonard after Saturday night’s victory over Minnesota, league sources said.

The conversation was described as tense and emotional at times, league sources said.

Several teammates spoke up, expressing frustration and confusion over a growing divide with Leonard that has created significant tension between the franchise star and the Spurs, league sources said.

Leonard, 26, was resolute in response, insisting that he had good reason for sitting out all but nine games with a right quad injury this season, league sources said.

Leonard has targeted games in the recent week, only to decide that he wasn’t feeling confident in the injury to return, league sources said.

Young reported in the Express-News today that some Spurs veterans did talk with Leonard on March 17, but the meeting was not termed as tense or featured players imploring Leonard to return:

Sources tell the Express-News veterans held a players-only meeting that was led by Tony Parker after Saturday’s win over the Minnesota Timberwolves to ask Leonard about his return.

The vets wanted to know if Leonard indeed intended to play this season, and if so, was he planning to return soon.

Leonard was reminded about the Spurs’ status – in the middle of a playoff push with now 11 games remaining. According to sources, Leonard, who was caught off guard by the meeting, stood his ground. He spoke up telling those that inquired about his status that when he is healthy enough, a return was still the goal. But Leonard offered no set date or guarantee about a return this season.

Leonard did receive support from some teammates, urging him not to return until he feels healthy enough, sources told the Express-News.

Shortly after the ESPN story circulated on Twitter, Spurs forward Danny Green tweeted: “Couldn’t be anymore incorrect lol”

Before the Spurs’ game last night vs. the Washington Wizards last night — which wound up being their fifth straight win — Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said he is operating under the notion Leonard won’t be back this season. The team held the annual team picture yesterday, which Leonard participated in, but he was not around for Wednesday’s shootaround.

“He is not coming back,” Ginobili told reporters Wednesday. “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.”

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.

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 part of 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 Kia 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 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 have gone 13-14. After flirting with being out of the playoff picture a week or so ago, San Antonio is the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference and is 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.

* * *