May 14th 2017: Leonard leaves the Western Conference Finals with a season-ending ankle injury.
Leonard and the Spurs led Game One of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors by 25 points. What would have been a competitive series quickly ended when he was forced to leave the game after landing on Zaza Pachulia.
June 20th: Leonard resumes basketball activity
Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford publicly came out and stated that Kawhi would be in a “good position” and was expected to prepare normally for the upcoming season and fully participate in training camp.
September 30th: Leonard out with right quadriceps tendinopathy
The Spurs announced that Leonard will miss the 2017-18 preseason. Greg Popovich later revealed that Kawhi had previously suffered from the same during the 2016-17 season and that the Spurs would not place a timetable for his return.
October 18th: Kawhi misses the Spurs’ opening game of the season
After their final preseason game against Houston, Popovich told reporters that Kawhi was still rehabbing and reiterated that there was no timetable or expected return date. Popovich went on to say to the media that Kawhi would make a return when he’s ready.
October 20th: Video of Leonard limping and struggling to get up a set of stair onto a team plane surfaces
October 25th: Popovich states he’s not thinking about Kawhi’s return
The Hall-Of-Fame bound head coach told reporters that Kawhi Leonard would potentially return on an unspecified date in November though only when team doctors declared that he is ready to return to the lineup.
Again, this did not seem like concerning news. This was early enough in the season where Kawhi would still have plenty of time to get reps under his legs as the Spurs looked to once again make a run in the playoffs. This organization is known for resting their players and not bringing them back unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Popovich’s remarks only followed the protocol that he’d employed for two decades. The idea that he’d would put a player’s health over a handful of regular season wins to that they’re at their freshest for the playoffs is classic Pop.
November 8th: Popovich says Leonard is “not totally confident”
With no updates as to when Kawhi was coming back, word from the Spurs camp came out that Kawhi was continuing with the rehabilitation of his injury. Tony Parker was also returning from a quadriceps injury and had returned to five-on-five full contact practice. Pop continued on with the media and stated that both players were heading in the right direction.
This was the first point where people started to worry about Kawhi’s injury. While team doctors and head coach Popovich were on the same page that he was making leeway into his recovery; it is always concerning when a player simply does not feel right or does not have the confidence to where he’s feels right enough to get back to basketball activities.
November 28th: Parker addressed the media and says that Leonard is close to returning
After recovering from a leg injury of his own, Parker came out and stated that Kawhi was getting and looking better in rehab. The Spurs not looking to rush him back to the lineup without risking his health.
December 12th: Leonard returns
In a loss to the Mavericks, Leonard logged 13 points in 16 minutes. He later spoke out and said he was happy to be back on the court and missed everything about playing basketball.
January 5th 2018: Leonard has a partial tear on his left shoulder
The San Antonio Spurs had chosen not to allow Leonard to play for two games in a row – this was to have him reintegrate himself with the team without having the risk of reinjuring his leg. He was slowly ramping up his minutes on court to the now average into the mid-20’s. Eight game into his season, Kawhi sustained an injury in his left shoulder and was going to miss the next three games. The Spurs would later come out and say that injury was not serious.
An unrelated injury, partial shoulder tear acted as cautionary mechanism for Kawhi to get more rest. He did not look like the MVP candidate of old that this was expected. He hadn’t played competitive basketball in months and was only just starting get into the rhythm of a grinding regular season. The quad injury clearly impacted his lateral movement and his quickness. He even looked uncomfortable as he tried to find his way on the court. This is not unnatural for a player, not matter how great, after sustaining an injury that kept him out for months.
January 13th: Final Kawhi Leonard game
In a win against the Spurs, and his first game back from a shoulder injury, Kawhi scored 19 points to accompany his 8 rebounds, 4 steals and 4 assists. In his postgame comments, Pop addressed the media and said he was pleased with the way his star player was coming along.
There was no reason – at the time – that was conceivable for why Kawhi would not play another game. While he was not playing at an elite level on the court, he was continuing to get back to form.
January 17th: The Spurs announce that Kawhi Leonard would be out indefinitely
With the announcement that the Spurs would sideline Kawhi, one can only assume that he was still recovering from his quad injury despite Spurs G.M. RC Buford publicly saying that their star player had made progress in his recovery but that pulling him out of basketball activities was best for his recovery.
January 22nd: ESPN reports that there have been disagreements that have resulted in a rift between Kawhi’s camp and the Spurs
In a detailed story, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Kawhi had become disconnected with the rest of the Spurs. For the first time, it was publicly revealed that there was months of disagreement between the two parties. This was centered around the diagnosis of his injury, the rehabilitation process, the required treatment and the timeline that was internally discussed to get Kawhi back on the court.
This was the first time where the public became aware of the fact that there was discord in an organization known for being the gold standard. Like any sports team, drama is not new for the Spurs. Greg Popovich as done an excellent job with the help of Tim Duncan and others to develop a sustainable and winning culture. With Duncan gone, the Spurs have looked very different.
Early to Mid-February: Kawhi seeks outside consultation in New York
Leonard spent time away from the team and he consulted with other doctors on his injury. At this time, he had planned to return to the team and was seeking to play again in March. Once again, the Spurs assured people that he was cleared to return but would only do so when he comfortable enough with this injury to come back on the court.
February 21st: Leonard is said to be cleared by the Sours though Coach Popovich is “surprised’ if Kawhi was to play again
Just when the Kawhi saga could not get any weirder, word came out from the Spurs organization that their doctors had medically cleared Kawhi to step back onto the court. They also stated that the decision to return rested on his shoulders. Popovich appeared to throw Kawhi under the bus when he said that he’d be surprised if Kawhi was to play again season – completely shifting the blame onto his camp.
March 7th: Leonard speaks out to reporters to tell that he should return shortly and downplayed reports that there was friction between his camp and the Spurs
In a rare conversation with reporters, Kawhi addressed the rumors and story swirling around his injury and the resultant consequences on his camp and the Spurs. He acknowledged hat a return day was not set though he assured reporters that he was making progress with his injury.
March 23rd: Tony Parker tells reporters his quad injury was “100 times worse” than Kawhi’s
Initially Popovich, Tony Parker now began to take some no-so-subtle jabs at Kawhi. Parker compared his injury to Kawhi even though no two injuries can truly be same between two very different people. The hall-of-fame point guard went to suggest that Leonard did not trust the Spurs or their medical team when he mentioned that he did not seek a second opinion despite having an injury that was “100 times” worse.
While these words came out of Parker’s mouth, there is now way that Popovich somehow did not sanction these comments beforehand.
Late March: Kawhi leaves the Spurs to return back to New York to continue his rehabilitation.
Leonard reportedly returned to the NBPA facility in New York as the progressed through rehab with still no timetable present for his return.
April 11th: Spurs finish as the seventh seed in the west on a 47-35 record and would face reigning NBA champions Golden State in the first round.
April 15th: Leonard’s status to be determined by his “group”
With Kawhi missing from the bench during the playoffs, Popovich spoke to the media and had no answers as to why Kawhi was not with the team. He mentioned that questions regarding his situation and improbable return hover around the team. As for his return, Coach Popovich took another jab at Kawhi and his confidents when asked about his star players’ return, he stated, “You’ll have to as Kawhi and his group that question.”
Tensions between the two camps could not be worse with relations between the two parties now reaching a point of no return.
June 21st: David Robinson rips apart Kawhi
With the playoffs well behind the Spurs and they prepared for Free Agency, Spurs legend David Robinson called out Kawhi on ESPN. He questioned Kawhi’s responsibility and maturity and called him out for not speaking up for himself to once and for all address the heaping number of storylines and rumors that had piled up on his injury. Robinson was quite diplomatic in his statements regarding Kawhi and went on to compare him to LeBron James and showcased the differences when both players address the things that are said about them.
Again, while Robinson is his own man, he is still part of the Spurs family with Greg Popovich being the patriarch. It is almost unfathomable to say that Robinson did not speak to Pop first before addressing Kawhi.
June 23rd: Bruce Bowen blasts Leonard
Robinson is a kind hearted man who is direct but still somewhat passive. Bowen on the other hand, is a very differnet man. He is blunt, direct, and bruatally honest. The Spurs fan-favorite ripped Kawhi Leonard apart as he tore apart his character and the way he handled his injury.
July 5th: Reports surface the Leonard and his camp hid from the Spurs when they tried to reach him in New York
This saga could not get any weirder, but it just did. In a report by ESPN’s Michael Wright, he revealed that the Spurs staffers had attmpted to visit Kawhi in New York but were unsucessful in doing so. Reportedly Leonard’s camp had him move around the building and hid him in a different part of the structure away from the Spurs staffers. This, and more, were the scherades organized by his camp that the public were unaware of and were just now beginning to surface.
July 6th: Clippers are the preferred destination for Kawhi
For weeks, the word coming out from Kawhi’s camp was the Lakers and the Lakers only. Following LeBron’s arrivale, Kawhi is said to have re-evaluated his options. He did not want to join the Lakers if it meant playing second fiddle to LeBron. So far now, Kawhi still wanted to be traded to Los Angeles, though to the Clippers where he would be the number one option.
July 18th: Report suggest that the Raptors are finalizing a trade for Kawhi
Toronto was finalizing a deal for Kawhi centered around allstar shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. They were looking to get his massive contract off the books and take a gamble on Kawhi – drawing comparisions to the OKC trade for Paul George. DeRozan reacted on Instagram, “Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing…”
Leonard reported did not want to play for the Raptors with rumors now coming around that he would not report for his new team.
Kawhi was later traded to the Raptors along with Danny Green for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob PÖltl, and a protected 2019 first round draft pick.