For some reason the situation around the Kawhi Leonard injury has felt like a well concealed government conspiracy. For as elite a player as Kawhi is, I haven't hear as much reporting about his condition as I have about Steph Curry's ankle in the last week.
We all remember game one of the 2017 western conference finals when Leonard lifted for a three point shot and Zaza Pachulia found himself in his landing pad after clumsily (true Zaza style) contesting the shot. Kawhi came down on Zaza and rolled his ankle, ending his season and the Spurs hopes of taking down the Warriors. If you don't remember it you must have been on another planet. This single event prompted the NBA to instate a new rule called the, you guessed it, "Zaza Pachulia Rule". The new rule simply allows referees to assess a technical or flagrant foul when a defender does not allow a clear landing spot for a shooter. Sounds like a relatively significant moment right? Well it's also the last time we've seen Leonard play NBA basketball.
Kawhi's injury, described as quadriceps tendinopathy, was sustained during the off season and it was announced prior to the season that he would miss opening night. The reservation became strange when what sounded like a one game injury designation turned into many more, eventually missing so many games that people began to wonder what we didn't know about the Spurs superstar. All we needed to freak out and burn everything down was some ominous evidence, and we got it.:
The graininess of the video only adds to the sense that this is some sort of cover up, some kind of internet conspiracy, but no, that is Kawhi Leonard on October 20th, six days into the season, looking like an old man. Obviously this was concerning for fans who needed consoling. Luckily the warm reassurance that coach Gregg Popovich provides will help.
Pop's words: "He’s just coming along more slowly, for whatever reason. It’s just been more difficult for him to get through the rehab routine. His body hasn’t reacted the same way."
Well never mind, that doesn't sound very reassuring at all, does it? Pop said that on November 7th. On that date the Spurs had a record of 3 wins and 2 losses without Kawhi, and those two losses came against the Warriors and eastern conference leading Celtics, not too shabby but it surely won't last will it? The Spurs are going to struggle right? Cut to December 10th, San Antonio is 19-8, they have 5th best defense in the league and are holding opponents to 97.5 points per game, good for first in the league. Not too shabby indeed.
The Spurs and their fans have been spoiled for years, those lucky bastard's get to enjoy a consistently competitive team no matter the circumstances and as their luck may have it, they're about to improve.
On Friday Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN announced that Kawhi Leonard will make his season debut on Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks.
The two time all star averaged 25.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists a game last year while leading the Spurs to the western conference finals. He's shown improvement in each of his six seasons in the league and is entering his prime at the age of 26.
If the league wasn't taking this patchwork Spurs team seriously yet, it will have to now. Leonard's return makes San Antonio a real title threat once again. What would have happened in that game had Zaza not hurt Kawhi? Hopefully we'll find out in April.