Despite being medically cleared to play, Leonard opts to stay out, for now
Many fans of the San Antonio Spurs believed that Kawhi Leonard may be the next face of the franchise, that Leonard, the 2014 Finals MVP is the successor of Tim Duncan as the Spurs' leader, But, given the problems that the Spurs are facing right now surrounding Leonard's health condition, fans may need to balance their expectations from this point on.
In last year's playoff series against the Golden State Warriors, Kawhi Leonard got injured and that practically changed the course of that series as Leonard went on to miss the rest of the series which ended with the Spurs getting uncharacteristically swept by the eventual champs. To begin with, the Spurs actually began that series without Tony Parker who was injured prior to the GSW series.
Heading into the ongoing 2017-2018 season which is about to start its second half, many were worried about the competitiveness of the Spurs owing to the fact that two of their stars are coming off season-ending injuries with one, practically about to reach the climax of his career. Sure, LaMarcus Aldridge is playing one of the best seasons in his entire career while Manu Ginobili continues to impress pundits despite his age. However, one cannot help but notice that there was something missing in the Spurs this season: it's the energy that Kawhi Leonard used to bring about when he was leading them against the Miami Heat back in June of 2014. And that's something that the rest of the Spurs will need to find from someone else because Kawhi Leonard isn't returning anytime soon.
After returning and playing 9 games this season, Kawhi Leonard opted not to return to the Spurs' lineup as sources are saying that Kawhi Leonard will only decide to return if he feels that he can finally manage to play while managing the same injury that has been bothering him all season long: his quad tendinopathy injury. In those 9 games, Kawhi Leonard averaged 16 points and 4 rebounds while the Spurs winning in 5 of those 9 games that they played with Leonard onboard.
To give credit to the Spurs, they are still in a good position heading into the latter stretch of the regular season as they own the third-best record in the Western Conference at 35-24, 10 games behind the league-leading Houston Rockets. That is despite the fact that they actually stumbled into the All-Star break with a 3-game losing streak- one of those defeats came at the hands of the Warriors.
Can the Spurs benefit from Kawhi's absence?
Absolutely! This will now allow the Spurs to focus on giving the young guys like Dejounte Murray and Kyle Anderson more minutes and exposure. Also, with LaMarcus Aldridge leading them in scoring and rebounding, the absence of the Klaw will also help Aldridge rediscover how dominant he used to be during his playing days with the Portland Trail Blazers.
And if Kawhi Leonard goes on to miss the playoffs, too, they still got Danny Green, Patty Mills, and Pau Gasol. And, if Rudy Gay can stay healthy in the long run, there's a high chance that Spurs can make a deep run into the playoffs even without Leonard. To sum it up, the Spurs are still a complete team.
Kawhi Leonard is not just doing himself a favor by choosing when he can fully play. He's doing the team a favor because it will prevent the team from aggravating the situation. And yes, he's also doing himself a favor by staying humble and not forcing himself just because he's Kawhi Leonard.