Gregg Popovich: Rehab going slower than expected for Kawhi Leonard

Popovich: 'Nobody wants to come back more than Kawhi' (0:53)

Gregg Popovich talks about the status of Kawhi Leonard and his relationship with the team. (0:53)

SAN ANTONIO -- Spurs coach Gregg Popovich shrugged off a local reporter's suggestion that his team is mired in a "soap opera" one day after ESPN reported on the strained relationship between the club and its star forward, Kawhi Leonard.

Multiple league sources described Leonard and his representatives as being "distant" and "disconnected" from the organization, with months of discord between the sides coming as a result of frustration from different elements of treatment, rehabilitation and timetables for the forward's return from right quadriceps tendinopathy recovery.

"I don't even know why you say it's a soap opera," Popovich said. "Some people wrote some articles. I understand it, but soap opera? It's a soap opera if we talk about it every day, I guess. I don't get it. We won't talk about it. There's nothing to talk about other than what we've already said.

"The rehab is going slower than we expected. We wish it were going more quickly. If we're going to err, as we have in the past, we're going to do it on the conservative side. We kept Timmy Duncan out of the playoffs one year because of a knee, and he could have played. So I don't see this as anything different than we've done with any other player. But some people for some reason want to do that. That's OK. But that doesn't affect my team or me or anybody else."

Leonard missed San Antonio's first 27 regular-season games and thus far has played in just nine contests. The Spurs sent Leonard back to San Antonio last week from a road trip in New York to continue his rehabilitation process. Leonard has told the Spurs at different stages of the process that he wasn't comfortable with his ability to play through the injury and that the Spurs shut him down.

"We sought outside expertise with the best tendon experts in the world," Spurs general manager R.C. Buford told ESPN. "It worked beautifully for Tony [Parker], but it hasn't worked the same for Kawhi."

That caused Leonard and his representatives to seek second opinions from outside the team's medical staff. The club has allowed players in the past to seek opinions and treatment from their own doctors.

"Lots of players go get second opinions. Lots of players have trainers," Popovich said. "Second opinions are good. It doesn't indicate anything except for due diligence, making sure you're doing everything you can to get a player back. Nobody wants to come back more than Kawhi Leonard. I think I'm No. 2. His teammates want him back. Everybody wants him back. He's a competitor. He wasn't Kawhi Leonard when he first arrived, the one we know now. So that shows you how much he's put in to get here. He certainly doesn't want to be missing games. So it's frustrating for everybody. But for somebody to come up with something about him and his teammates is just silly."

The 15th overall pick in the 2011 draft, Leonard has developed into one of the most dominant players in the league, becoming a two-time first-team All-NBA player, a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and the 2014 NBA Finals MVP in the Spurs' victory over the Miami Heat.

Despite Leonard's absence and limited minutes in the nine games he has played, the Spurs are 30-18 and tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.

The Spurs disclosed Leonard's injury initially on Sept. 30, announcing that he would miss the entire preseason because of right quadriceps tendinopathy. Popovich said at the time that Leonard would "probably miss the beginning of the preseason or a good deal of preseason" and indicated that the quadriceps issue first developed during the 2016-17 season.

After Leonard missed the Spurs' first 10 regular-season games in October and November, Popovich said that he was "just coming along more slowly" than expected in his rehabilitation, and he reiterated that stance Tuesday in advance of the club's matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Leonard made his season debut on Dec. 12, scoring 13 points in 16 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks. The Spurs kept Leonard on a minutes restriction and held him out of back-to-back games until Leonard sustained a strained left shoulder on Jan. 5 against the Phoenix Suns.

He missed the next three games with the shoulder injury, then returned to the lineup on Jan. 13 against Denver, scoring 19 points in 28 minutes. Days later, the Spurs made public a decision to shut down Leonard indefinitely.

Popovich said that Leonard "didn't reinjure" the quad and insisted the organization is erring on the side of caution with its franchise player.

In 39 games without Leonard on the floor this season, the Spurs have registered a 25-14 record (5-4 with Leonard in the lineup) and ranked No. 16 in offensive and No. 2 in defensive efficiency.