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Dynastic. Professional. Excellence. Champions.
These are just a few words that have characterized the San Antonio Spurs regime that has reigned supreme for the better part of the last two decades.
Rift. Disconnect. Tension. Turbulence. Distant.
These are words that, in the past few days, have been used to describe the relationship between star forward Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs organization, as it relates the right quadriceps injury that has sidelined the two-time defensive player of the year for all but nine games this season.
Some argue that this perceived tension between the two parties is one of the biggest stories in all of sports. The Spurs, similar to the New England Patriots, are an organization that is very close to the vest with everything that they do. For information such as this, regarding turmoil between a player as humble and soft-spoken as Leonard and an organization that has set the standard for professionalism and excellence in the NBA is almost unheard of.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Monday that the friction between Leonard and the organization stemmed from a disconnect between the team’s medical staff and Leonard’s camp regarding treatment protocols for his quad injury. In an interview with ESPN, Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford rejected any such disconnect or turbulence between Leonard and the franchise.
“There is no issue between the Spurs organization and Kawhi,” Buford said. “From Day 1 all parties have worked together to find the best solutions to his injury.”
However, Buford did admit there is a cloud of frustration that has been hanging over the situation due to the lack of clarity of a clear-cut solution.
“This has been difficult for everyone,” Buford told ESPN. “It’s been difficult for Kawhi. He’s an elite-level player. It’s been difficult for the team, because they want to play with a great teammate. And it’s been difficult for our staff. Historically we’ve been able to successfully manage injuries. This rehab hasn’t been simple, and it hasn’t gone in a linear fashion.”
Leonard injured his quad on Sept. 30 during the preseason and the talk around the team was that he would miss most of the preseason and potentially the start of the regular season. Leonard would miss the first 10 games of the regular season in October and November. At the time, Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said that Leonard was “just coming along more slowly” than originally anticipated in his rehabilitation.
Leonard did not make his season debut until Dec. 12, during which he only played 16 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks. The Spurs kept Leonard on a minutes restriction until he suffered a strained left shoulder on Jan. 5. Shortly after, the Spurs made public a decision to shut down Leonard indefinitely.
Despite Leonard’s absence and limited impact on this season, the Spurs have posted a 30-18 record and are currently a game behind the Minnesota Timberwolves for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.