Kawhi Leonard says he’ll return “soon,” no friction between him and team

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Part of the reason for all the rumors and speculation around Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs — when he would play again, about tension between him and management — was the lack of real information. Leonard doesn’t say much, the Spurs are not a leaky organization, and the Internet abhors a vacuum. Without real information, speculation and rumor will fill in the space.

Wednesday, Leonard spoke to the media and tried to quash all those rumors (video above, courtesy ESPN).

First, he said his pain level with his quadriceps tendon issue is “diminishing” he plans to return “soon” but left it open.

“Soon. I don’t have a set date right now. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing. The progression that I am making has been great. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing.”

He also tried to quash the idea that there is a lot of tension in his relations with the Spurs, saying he wants to stay a Spur for his entire career. The reports of tension between him and management while he sought second opinions were not true, Leonard said.

“Everything was done as a group. I don’t feel like nothing was friction. I talk to Pop (Gregg Popovich) every day. He knows what the progression were. He knew what I was doing the whole entire time, as well as the front office. We made a group decision, so it was me just going out and saying, ‘I am going to go out and do this thing.’ “
Spurs general manager RC Buford admitted previously that Leonard’s injury and slower-than-anticipated recovery has been “difficult for everyone” but everyone involved said there was no real tension. It’s just some frustration at a slow process that has changed the Spurs season.

San Antonio has a decision to make this summer: Leonard is eligible for a Designated Veteran contract extension, which would lock him up with the Spurs for six seasons at around $200 million (maybe just a little short of that, depending upon the final salary cap numbers, but it would be the one guaranteed year remaining on his current deal at $20.1 million, plus five years after that at 35 percent of the salary cap).

If he returns and looks like vintage Leonard during the playoffs, there’s not much of a call, the Spurs make the offer. He’s a top-five, franchise cornerstone player who already has won a Finals MVP. But if he’s not all the way back, do the Spurs wait? It’s going to be an interesting process to watch.

But first, he just needs to get back on the court because the NBA is more entertaining with him.

DeMar DeRozan learned he had been traded in parking lot of Jack-in-the-Box

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As if eating Jack-in-the-Box in your car at midnight was not depressing enough already…

That’s when and where DeMar DeRozan learned he had been traded from Toronto — the city and franchise he was all in on — to the San Antonio Spurs. The trade sent DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a protected 2019 first-round pick to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

DeRozan opened up to Jonathan Abrams of Bleacher Report about how he learned about the decision that rocked him to his core.

DeRozan found out about the trade after getting out of a screening of The Equalizer 2, featuring Denzel Washington. Upon leaving the movie theater in Los Angeles late into the night, he checked his phone. “[I] was wondering why I was getting missed calls,” he says.

He was hungry, so he went to get something to eat at a Jack in the Box. In the parking lot, he got the call telling him he had just been traded to San Antonio. “It just caught me off guard,” he says. “I sat in the Jack in the Box parking lot for, like, two hours just trying to process it all, like just trying to process the whole thing, and it just tripped me out honestly, just trying to figure it out, but that’s how I found out. Midnight, sitting in the Jack in the Box parking lot for about two hours till I went home.”

It’s a trade that Toronto felt it had to make, in the same way it felt it had to move on from Coach of the Year Dwane Casey. The Raptors were enjoying their best run of basketball success in franchise history, having won 59 games the season before, but come the playoffs their system and personnel were just a little too predictable, and they could not reach the next level. Plus LeBron James was in the way.

Except now LeBron wasn’t in the way, and the Raptors decided to swing for the fences. Early on Toronto looks very good this season, but the real test of Leonard and the new-look Raptors starts in April. We’ve seen the good regular season Raptors before.

DeRozan is averaging 25.2 points per game this season and has been more efficient as a shooter because the Spurs have asked him to play to his strengths — the midrange jumper. DeRozan is taking fewer threes in a league that has gone three crazy. The Spurs are 9.8 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court, with most of that help on the offensive end. More than that, DeRozan has found a new home, a new comfort level.

But there are still a few scars from how all of it went down.

Nets: Caris LeVert dislocated foot, will return this season

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Caris LeVert‘s injury last night looked so severe, his Nets teammates cried and the Timberwolves prayed.

Thankfully, that all turned out to be an overreaction. (Or, if you believe, the compassion and prayer worked.)

Nets release:

Brooklyn Nets guard Caris LeVert returned to New York with the team last night and was evaluated today by Nets’ Team Orthopedist Dr. Martin O’Malley at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Following the evaluation, LeVert was diagnosed with a subtalar dislocation of the right foot.

“Fortunately, tests performed this morning revealed that there are no fractures and only moderate ligament damage,” said Dr. O’Malley. “While the optics of this injury may have appeared to be more severe, surgery will not be required. Caris will begin a period of rehabilitation with the Nets’ performance staff, following which he is expected to return to full strength and resume all basketball activities without any limitations this season.”

This is fantastic news. LeVert is one of the NBA’s up-and-comers and well-liked by nearly everyone who knows him. People all around the league wished him well in the wake of this injury.

It’s still unclear how much time LeVert will miss. A dislocated foot is a small matter only relative to the feared severity of LeVert’s injury. This will probably derail his Most Improved Player campaign.

But LeVert returning to the court this season will be a joyous occasion on its own.

PBT Podcast: Lakers’ talk with Eric Pincus (plus Butler, Carmelo news)

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Jimmy Butler is in Philadelphia.

Carmelo Anthony is in Houston, but not for much longer.

And the Lakers have Tyson Chandler and a three-game winning streak — there is never a dull moment in the NBA. Kurt Helin of NBC Sports welcomes in Eric Pincus, who covers the Lakers for Bleacher Report plus is a salary cap expert you have seen on NBA TV, to talk about it all. The pair talk about what the Sixers need to do next to capitalize on their window with Butler, are there landing spots for Carmelo Anthony, and then a deep dive on the Lakers: What is the team doing right? Does Lonzo Ball fit with LeBron James? What about Brandon Ingram? And who is the next big star the Lakers will be able to add to their mix?

We want your questions for the podcast, and your comments, email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com. As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Report: Markelle Fultz and Drew Hanlen no longer speaking, let alone working together

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Markelle Fultz has had few more vocal backers than Drew Hanlen, who trained the 76ers guard over the offseason.

Hanlen said Fultz would be an All-Star this season if 100%. With Fultz still struggling to shoot, Hanlen said Fultz wasn’t fully healthy.

But Fultz contradicted that, calling himself generally healthy. Fultz also rebuffed Hanlen’s assertion Fultz had the yips, as Fultz stressed his problems were due to injury.

Apparently, they became even more divided.

Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype:

Hanlen brought himself plenty of fame through his work with Fultz. This moves Hanlen back closer to the anonymity of most trainers.

More importantly, it suggests Fultz needs yet another plan for fixing his shooting form.