Sources: Spurs held players-only meeting to implore Kawhi Leonard to return

Woj: Kawhi's return 'not imminent' (1:58)

Adrian Wojnarowski says Kawhi Leonard's Spurs teammates "implored" him to return during a players-only meeting. (1:58)

The San Antonio Spurs held a players-only meeting to implore All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard to return to the lineup and help the team in its push for the playoffs, league sources told ESPN.

Spurs guard Tony Parker, a four-time NBA champion, quarterbacked the meeting after the team's victory over Minnesota on Saturday night. Non-players were asked to leave the locker room, a source told Michael C. Wright.

The conversation was described as tense and emotional at times. Several teammates spoke up, expressing frustration and confusion over a growing divide that has created significant tension between Leonard and the Spurs. Outside the Spurs locker room, players' voices could be heard through the door, sources said.

Leonard remained resolute in his response, insisting that he has good reason to continue sitting out because he still isn't fully healthy, sources said. Leonard told his teammates that he planned to return once he felt able to do so, sources said.

Because of the meeting, the team did not conduct its usual postgame player interviews with its broadcast partner.

Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and first-team All-NBA player, as well as the 2014 NBA Finals MVP. He is eligible for a $200 million contract extension this summer and free agency in 2019.

Leonard has impressed his coaches and teammates in 3-on-3 and 4-on-4 workouts, and there had been a belief his rehabilitation was cycling toward a return to the floor.

Leonard has targeted games in the past week, only to decide he wasn't ready to return, league sources said.

The Spurs have 10 games left in the regular season and they hold the sixth spot in the Western Conference playoff race with a 42-30 record. San Antonio has won five straight games.

In the aftermath of the team meeting, Spurs guard Manu Ginobili told reporters that the Spurs needed to proceed as though Leonard would not be returning to play with them.

"He is not coming back," Ginobili said Wednesday. "For me, he's not coming back, because it's not helping [to think Leonard is returning]. We fell for it a week ago again. I guess you guys made us fall for it. But we have to think that he's not coming back, that we are who we are, and that we got to fight without him. That shouldn't be changing, at least until he is ready for the jump ball."

Leonard stepped away to focus on rehabbing the injured quad after a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended on Jan. 13.

Parker, meanwhile, has recovered from a ruptured left quadriceps tendon suffered last May, making his season debut in November after 208 days. Parker's injury was considered more significant than Leonard's, and the team sought the expertise of the world's best tendon experts in both cases.

Parker elected to utilize the Spurs' doctors while Leonard sought consultation outside the organization, which is a practice the franchise encourages as its goal is to protect the player's long-term future.

"Tony exhibited great trust in our whole process from the very beginning because of the lack of historical knowledge of this," Spurs general manager R.C. Buford told ESPN's Michael C. Wright. "I was anxious to make sure that we got the world's best experts engaged before the surgery started. And Tony made a comment to me as we were analyzing resources, 'I've trusted Dr. [David] Schmidt my entire career, and why would I want to trust anybody else?'"

Leonard initially sought treatment within the organization before consulting with a specialist in New York on Jan. 16. Leonard informed the Spurs on Jan. 17 that he needed to take time away to focus on rehabilitation.

Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27, and sources have raved about the intensity of his workouts.

One source described a workout earlier this week in which Leonard held a 25-pound heavy ball in both hands, jumping off both feet as high as possible, before throwing the ball back toward the free-throw line.

"Sometimes you feel like an alien to the core group and you've got to fight through it," Ginobili said. "You've got to make an effort to still be around, and be part of the everyday topics; the good things and the bad things. You've got to make an effort."

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked whether the team is making an effort to keep Leonard engaged and feel as if he's a part of the team.

"It's the same as a player who is the 13th man sitting on the end of the bench," Popovich said. "The more you're participating, the more you feel like you're a part of the deal. But anybody who's injured, sitting on the bench or not playing, feels a little bit different, of course. That's just human nature.

"He's a nice guy. I love the kid. What am I gonna do? Sometimes he wants to rehab in the room, getting stronger; use the time wisely instead of watching us out there."