What Kawhi Leonard's Decision to End Season Means for His Future

Kawhi Leonard is not expected to return this season. What does that mean?

Soobum Im
USA Today Sports

Image via USA Today Sports

Soobum Im

San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard has played in only nine games this season—his last action coming Jan. 13—and he is not expected to return in the postseason. Yahoo!'s Shams Charania reported as much over the weekend. Leonard has been working with his own doctors in New York to rehab his quadriceps injury, and when he will return has been a point of contention with the Spurs.

Coach Gregg Popovich gave an interesting response Sunday when he was asked about Kawhi returning.

Any chance Kawhi rejoins the team during the series, Pop? Pop: "You'll have to ask Kawhi and his group that question."

The Spurs acquired Leonard, whom the Pacers picked No. 15 in the 2011 draft, on draft night. Since then, the former San Diego State standout has emerged as a true star.

Leonard won Finals MVP in 2013-14, when the Spurs manhandled the star-studded Heat. The next year, he won Defensive Player of the Year. The year after that, he made his first All-Star team. Then, in 2016-17, he was an MVP finalist. Leonard has seemingly gotten better every year of his career, but this year has served as a confusing and interesting detour.

Some have speculated he's unhappy with the Spurs' culture. Others think he wants to play in a bigger market. Still others think he's frustrated that he hasn't gotten the full-on star treatment (for example, he's pushed for top-flight money from Jordan Brand). Maybe we'll get the full story someday (30 for 30, please!).

What's next for the 6-foot-7 26-year-old? Leonard is under contract for one more season, in which he'll earn $21.3 million. After that, he'll be an unrestricted free agent.

The likeliest scenario, however, appears to be that the Spurs will trade him. In the past, they've shown hesitance to trade a star for spare parts, but these are extenuating circumstances, as they may get nothing in return for Leonard if they don't deal him.

The Clippers, who are plotting their future, are reportedly piecing together a package for Leonard, who is from the L.A. area. Dwyane Wade seems to think the Celtics, who are loaded with promising young pieces and draft picks, will make a run at Leonard.

Kawhi Leonard on the move to the #Celtics?! That's what @DwyaneWade told @Schultz_Report pic.twitter.com/jSZQgFwPWW

ESPN's Brian Windhorst has reported "several general managers" have expressed their intent to inquire about Leonard, so it's likely other teams will enter the picture in the near future.

Leonard is one of the league's best two-way players, and he's a young star around whom teams would love to build. The uncertainty of his contract, however, could harm his trade value. It's likely teams would require a wink-wink agreement from Leonard's camp before they blew up their core of assets to acquire him.

Latest in Sports