SAN ANTONIO -- Spurs star forward Kawhi Leonard provided an update on his recovery from right quadriceps tendinopathy on Wednesday, saying he could return "soon," while acknowledging he's open to the idea of finishing his career in San Antonio.
"I don't have a set date right now [for my return]," the 26-year-old Leonard said. "The progress I've been making has been great. [The pain] is diminishing. It's hard to explain, but I'm definitely better. I feel better, and I'm feeling more comfortable."
Leonard, who has played in just nine games all season, addressed the media for the first time since Jan. 13, the date of the last game in which he participated before opting to sit out indefinitely to focus on rehabbing his injured quadriceps.
Leonard resumed working out with the team at the Spurs' facility on Feb. 27 after spending three weeks in New York seeking further consultation on the quadriceps injury that has kept him out of the lineup for nearly the entire season. League sources told ESPN that Leonard hoped to return by late March, and the forward said, "Sure," when asked whether the plan for him was to rejoin teammates on the court as soon as possible.
"We've taken the right steps," Leonard said. "We don't want to take any steps back and just aggravate things. Like I said: It's hard to explain. But obviously, I'm a competitor, and if I can play, I'm going to go out and play like I did in the nine games, just to test it out. It just wasn't where we wanted it to be."
Leonard will not be with the team on its three-game road trip, which kicks off Thursday at Golden State, followed by games at Oklahoma City and Houston.
Leonard's injury, rehabilitation and timetable for a return has played a significant role in complicating his relationship with the team, league sources told ESPN, leading to speculation about his desire to remain in San Antonio.
Asked directly whether he wanted to finish his career with the Spurs, Leonard said: "Yes, for sure."
Leonard also revealed that he stayed in constant communication with the team during his time in New York, where he worked out in the gymnasium at the National Basketball Players Association headquarters.
"[It was] just a group effort to get me better really," Leonard said. "Just a type of protocol, step-by-step, that we were doing. Everything was done as a group. I don't feel like [there] was friction. I talked to [Spurs coach Gregg Popovich] every day. He knew what the progressions were. He knew what I was doing the whole entire time as well as the front office. We made a group decision. So it wasn't me just going out and saying, 'I'm going to go do this.'"
Leonard said he hasn't yet engaged in full 5-on-5 workouts, but he has participated in 3-on-3 drills.
"It doesn't even matter if I'm playing 3-on-3 or 5-on-5. If I'm playing 3-on-3, [it] doesn't mean that I'm two or three weeks away from playing," Leonard said. "So I've been playing 3-on-3, just different ways to simulate games. Just play, that's it, that's all I can do; get on the bike a little bit. Playing is what gets you in shape for this game. And obviously we try to do the best we can to simulate a game. But that's all I can do until I get back out there on that floor and start getting real game minutes and segments, and then go from there."
Leonard is eligible for a five-year, $219 million supermax extension this summer. He signed a maximum five-year contract worth $90 million in July 2015 to remain with the Spurs, and there's still one more season left on his deal after the current campaign with a player option for 2019-20 worth $21.3 million.
Popovich told reporters in February that he'd be "surprised" if Leonard returns this season, and it's clear he has prepared the team to finish the season without him.
"We only have X number of games left in the season, and he's still not ready to go," Popovich said in February. "If by some chance he is, it's gonna be pretty late into the season, and it's going to be a pretty tough decision -- how late to bring somebody back. So that's why I'm just trying to be honest and logical. I'll be surprised if he gets back this year."
The uncertainty surrounding this season -- and Leonard's future, which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 -- has created significant concern at the highest levels of the organization, according to multiple league sources.
Leonard downplayed the notion of any friction with the organization and admitted it has "been tough" to watch the Spurs struggle without him in the lineup.
"The guys have been doing it all season," Leonard said. "They've been playing great. I'm thankful for them, for the teammates that I have. They understand the situation that I'm in. They're playing well. I've just got to get back. But I can't come back unhealthy."