What's the story?
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN has reported that San Antonio Spurs held a players-only meeting to request star forward Kawhi Leonard to return to the lineup and help the currently sixth-seeded team in the West to make a push for the playoffs.
In case you didn't know...
Two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard missed the first 27 games of the 2017-18 season while recovering from a torn quadriceps injury. Leonard made his season debut against the Dallas Mavericks on 12 December 2017. He played nine games for the Spurs before hitting the sidelines again.
The heart of the matter
Reports suggest that the said meeting took last Saturday after the San Antonio Spurs beat the Minnesota Timberwolves. Veteran guard Tony Parker is said to have headed the meeting.
All the teammates reportedly engaged in a tense and emotional conversation. Many expressed their frustration over Leonard's situation and the growing divide between him and San Antonio.
Leonard, on the other hand, remained undeterred and cited that he had good reason to miss so many games for the 2014 NBA Champions as he was adhering to his quadriceps injury.
Post the meeting, Manu Ginobili told reporters that Leonard is not coming back and the team needs to move on without him.
"He is not coming back. For me, he's not coming back because it's not helping [to think Leonard is returning]. We fell for it a week ago again. I guess you guys made us fall for it. But we have to think that he's not coming back, that we are who we are, and that we got to fight without him. That shouldn't be changing, at least until he is ready for the jump ball."
The San Antonio Spurs currently occupy the sixth seed in the Western Conference with a record of 42-30 which is a poor showing given Spurs' standards. To put things into perspective, the last time San Antonio lost 30 or more games in the regular season was back in the 2009-10 season.
The Spurs continue their playoffs tussle in a jam-packed Western Conference as they host the high-flying Utah Jazz on Friday night and travel to the BMO Bradley Harris Center to face the Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.
Kawhi Leonard is undoubtedly a key player for the San Antonio Spurs, and probably the best defensive player in the league when fully fit. His absence was hugely felt in last year's Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors where he was injured after infamously landing on Zaza Pachulia's foot in the first game of the series. Warriors then went on to sweep the Spurs.
However, fretting over player situations only leads to confusion and possible slip-ups, something that San Antonio cannot afford at this stage in the regular season. As Ginobili said, the Spurs need to move on without The Klaw and concentrate on the games at hand.