Spurs coach Gregg Popovich threw cold water Tuesday night on reports the return of All-NBA Kawhi Leonard is imminent, saying the All-NBA forward still hasn’t been cleared to play by his medical staff.
Popovich also told reporters before the Spurs-Magic game at the AT&T Center that Leonard still isn’t quite ready to return to the lineup.
“I’ve seen him working out and everything,” Popovich said. “He needs a little more work.”
Popovich did have some good news for Spurs fans.
“He feels pretty good,” Popovich said. “He’s getting there.”
Sidelined by a lingering quad injury, Leonard has played in only nine games this season. He didn’t make his debut until Dec. 13, and played for a month before he was shut down again. Leonard has missed San Antonio’s last 23 games.
“Like anybody else, he’s frustrated,” Popovich said. “He wants to be playing. He’s competitive. Been a tough year in that regard for him. But the first step is he’s got to be cleared by his medical staff that he’s seeing, and until he gets cleared, we can’t make a decision on when he’s coming back.
“Once he gets cleared, then he and I can sit down and talk, and see what we think about an appropriate time to come back. But that clearance has to be obtained first.”
Leonard went to New York during the All-Star break to seek a second opinion from specialists.
Asked if there was a difference of opinion between Leonard’s doctors and the Spurs’ medical staff, Popovich said: “No, not that I know of,” he said.
Even after he’s cleared by his medical staff, Leonard will have a sitdown with Popovich.
“That’s a negotiation between a player and a coach to figure out what’s best,” Popovich said. “He knows very well . . . our history is pretty documented. If we’re going to err, we’re going to err on the conservative side because his career is going to be of paramount importance to us.
“It’s not the game, or the playoff, or this or that. It was the same way with Tim (Duncan) when he hurt a knee one year and we didn’t let him go in the playoffs. I don’t know if that will be this situation. We don’t know. His career will be paramount in our thinking as we make a decision.”
ESPN’s Lisa Salter fueled speculation that Leonard’s return was imminent when she reported before the Spurs-Thunder game Saturday that Leonard could return to the lineup Thursday against New Orleans.
Citing sources, Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports reported Tuesday afternoon that Leonard would not play Thursday. The Spurs already had listed Leonard as out for Tuesday night’s game.
Asked about the report that Leonard was returning to action Thursday, Popovich said: “Where did you get those reports?” Popovich asked.
When told by a reporter it was from “articles” and ESPN, Popovich said: “I rest my case. You didn’t get that from me or a Spur. You heard it from other media outlets. You either believe them or you don’t."