Darren Abate/Associated Press
Leonard has appeared in just nine games this season and has not played since Jan. 13. ESPN’s Lisa Salters reported over the weekend the Spurs star could return as early as Thursday against the New Orleans Pelicans. However, Popovich wants to see how his player is doing before deciding when to bring him back.
“I’ll see Kawhi [Tuesday],” Popovich said, per ESPN’s Michael C. Wright. “We’ll see how he’s feeling, and see how ready he is, and see how ready I think he is. And we’ll go from there.”
The two-time All-Star missed the first 27 games of this season due to a right quadriceps injury and has also dealt with a partial tear in his left shoulder.
He is averaging 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in limited action.
Earlier this season, Wright and Adrian Wojnarowski reported the relationship between Leonard and the Spurs was becoming strained as the two sides worked through the quadriceps injury. Leonard was reportedly “distant” and “disconnected” from the team, though he recently denied there was any friction.
Leonard’s return can’t come soon enough for San Antonio, which has lost eight of its last 10 games and is in a three-way tie for eighth in the Western Conference at 37-30. Now, the Spurs are in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 1996-97, the year before Tim Duncan was drafted.
As much as the team may need its star, Popovich and the Spurs aren’t going to rush Leonard back. Making the playoffs is not worth sacrificing the opportunity to win championships in the future. And San Antonio would face long odds to win its sixth championship this season even with Leonard.