The San Antonio Spurs have a lot of questions ahead of them this offseason after their quick exit from the 2018 playoffs. As David Aldridge pointed out in his latest Morning Tip, the next move by the Spurs and their star forward, Kawhi Leonard, will have a big impact on summer roster shuffling as well.
The quadriceps injury that ultimately sidelined Leonard for all but nine games this season led to news of reported tension between he and the Spurs. But Leonard made it a point in March to clear the air and denied talk of friction between he and the team.
However, the concern about Leonard's future and his willingness to stay with the Spurs remains a popular topic among the team and its fans. According to ESPN's Ramona Shelburne and Michael C. Wright, the Spurs have worries that those close to Leonard may be trying to steer him to a bigger-market team:
Over the past several months, ESPN has spoken to dozens of league sources, people close to Leonard and Spurs staffers. They describe a confounding situation, with mistakes made on both sides, and a looming showdown between one of the NBA's most prestigious franchises and one of the best players in the league who has never really flexed his muscles in this way, but just might have the power to alter the NBA landscape.
Multiple league sources also told ESPN that the Spurs have grown worried that Leonard's group has an ulterior motive to fray the relationship and get Leonard traded to a larger market like Los Angeles (Leonard's hometown) or New York or Philadelphia (Robertson lives in New Jersey).
One source close to general manager R.C. Buford said the longtime executive admitted to him that he's constantly losing sleep over how and why the relationship with Leonard has disintegrated.
In addition, ESPN reports that Leonard's camp has its own feelings as to why Leonard's injury was such a nagging one in 2017-18 for the former All-Star and Finals MVP:
Leonard's camp believes his condition is the result of a series of contusions to the quadriceps that began with one very deep bruise in March 2016 that caused him to miss three games. Leonard was again listed with a "quad contusion" on the Feb. 6, 2017, injury report, when he was a late scratch before a game. But it wasn't until the end of last season when the severity of the injury became apparent.
According to multiple sources, Leonard's camp has come to believe the issue has more to do with an ossification or hardening in the area where the muscle has been repeatedly bruised and then an atrophying, which in turn affected the tendons connecting the muscle to the knee.
The Spurs have always called the injury quadriceps tendinopathy, which is a disease of the tendon that has a degenerative effect on the muscle by keeping it in a constant state of exhaustion.
Once the Spurs season came to an end in Game 5 of the first round, reports surfaced that the Spurs wanted to schedule an all-hands-on-deck meeting with Leonard and the team's brass.
Leonard missed all but nine games this season while nursing right quadriceps tendinopathy, an injury that flared up late in the offseason. He returned to the team's lineup briefly but did not come back again after complaining of soreness in his injured thigh following the Spurs' home win over Denver on Jan. 13.
After the Spurs lost Game 1 of their first-round series with the Golden State Warriors, Leonard opted to remain in New York to work with his own team of doctors to further rehab his quadriceps injury. Leonard went to New York to work with his own team of doctors for the second time in 2017-18, after first working with them prior to the All-Star break in February. The Spurs' medical staff has been present for both of Leonard's extended stays in New York to stay updated on his progress.
The 6-foot-7 forward has worked out at the NBA Players Association facility in Manhattan during both of his stays in New York.
The Spurs' 99-91 loss to the Warriors in Game 5 of the first round set in motion a summer for the Spurs that may feature several well-known players coming back -- or moving on. After the loss, Spurs fan-favorite and former All-Star Manu Ginobili was at the point he was after last season's loss in the West finals to the Warriors: deciding what to do about his future.
The swingman is under contract for 2018-19, but he said Tuesday night he is weighing what's next in his career.
"As I've done it the last two or three seasons, I'll sit back, relax and, after two or three months, see if I feel retired or not," Ginobili said. "I like to let it season a little bit, to see how I feel. Don't expect news until July, probably. I just don't know. I let a month, two months go by and see how I feel. I'm not the type of guy who makes decisions on the fly, and when you are upset, hurt or whatever."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has endured plenty of late, as he has been grieving the death of his wife, Erin, who died after a prolonged illness. He did not coach in Games 3, 4 or 5 (Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina handled those duties). Popovich has coached the team since 1997-98 and is the longest-tenured coach in the NBA. He will also be coaching Team USA before the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Longtime Spurs point guard Tony Parker is also a free agent this summer. He said last summer he hoped to make it an even 20 seasons with the Spurs, which would require the team to re-sign him for three years. Parker willingly gave up his starting role to youngster Dejounte Murray this season and remains open to returning to San Antonio.
Other players, such as Danny Green and veteran swingman Rudy Gay, face contract decisions this summer.
Big man Pau Gasol -- who is under contract for two more seasons -- made it clear after Game 5 that he plans to keep playing, too.
"I have plenty of gas in the tank," Gasol told reporters after Game 5. "I feel like I can do a lot of good things on the floor and play three years, three, four years. So, that's what's on my mind. But, knowing that, I also take it one year at a time. I go step by step and try not to look too much into the future because a lot of factors come into play."