For the San Antonio Spurs the postseason is closer to ending than continuing as they trail the Golden State Warriors in the first round best of seven series 3-1. The Spurs are playing the series, like most of the regular season, without star forward Kawhi Leonard.
NBA fans are sure to enter this debate and the vast majority are going to defend the small forward’s actions based upon what is known publicly about the situation. It does not appear that the behavior of San Antonio’s best player deserves the negative comments that have been spoken and written about him.
Should Leonard Follow Team Doctors
Those against Leonard tell you he should be playing because his team has given him a medical clearance related to his quadriceps injury and he is contracted by the team to play. Those against Leonard also say he should communicate better with the front office and if he is not playing, he at least should be traveling with the rest of his teammates.
One point that has been brought up to compare with Leonard is that veteran point guard Tony Parker played last postseason even though he suffered a much more significant injury to his quadriceps.
Parker said his injury was the same type as the one suffered by Leonard but that his was much worse than that of Leonard. Many consider Parker’s comment to be an indirect dig at his teammate.
Parker has not played that well during the first four games of the series. He looked like he did not belong on a pro basketball court in Games 1 and 2, but did perform better in Games 3 and 4. However, he is slow and does not have the drive he did prior to his injury, which brings up the question if he should be playing or not as well.
Leonard Played Just Nine Games
Those criticizing Leonard have failed to talk about how he did return and try to play during the regular season. He played for just nine games and then shut himself down. That means the Spurs medical staff cleared him, but it appears they may have erred in that decision.
That brings up another question, should Leonard trust the medical staff that works for the team and not for him, or the doctors he has personally hired and only owe allegiance to him and not the team.
Risks Involved in Returning Too Soon From Injury
During last season, Isaiah Thomas was cleared by the Boston Celtics to play even though he had serious hip issues. He fought through the excruciating pain until he finally sat out the finals of the Eastern Conference
Thomas’ decision to play for the Celtics even though he body did not feel right in the end is going to cost him millions of dollars because of where his career is headed.
Thomas’ saga has taught a lesson to others. If Leonard says that he is not ready to return to the court and play than that should end everything, unless doubters are willing to call him a liar.
With regard to the issues with communication, no one is going to dispute the fact that Leonard has told the Spurs he is not healthy enough to play and that he would be back on the court as soon as he was healthy enough.
Beyond that, is there more he should be saying to the team is what many are asking. He has not explained the ailment he has to the media, which makes more speculation on their part.
Players Only Meeting
During March, Spurs players held a players-only meeting at their own initiative to confront Leonard relative to his absence from the team. Reports are that the meeting was both confrontational and tense inside the team’s locker room and could be heard from outside.
With that tension present it should not be surprising that he has chosen not to travel with the team. His teammates demonstrated they were willing to question him about his playing status during their players-only meeting and he therefore is likely trying to avoid more of the same.
Once the Spurs are eliminated from the postseason, the team must decide if they want to keep Leonard for next season or if they want to shop his talent elsewhere and get what they can for the star forward, who just last season was considered one of the top five players in the NBA prior to his injury.