Kawhi Leonard needs to be cleared by his medical team — not Spurs’ docs — to return to court

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Smart players in any professional sport get a second opinion and find outside doctors they trust with any significant injuries. It’s not that team doctors are not good at their job, but they are paid by the team, and that can create a conflict of interest.

Kawhi Leonard has his own medical team — and it’s that group that is keeping him off the court with the Spurs right now. Leonard will not play Thursday, as had been previously reported. San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich talked about what is holding Leonard back before Tuesday’s Spurs game, via Jeff McDonald of the Express-News.

It still sounds like Leonard is close to a comeback, however, the last question is a valid one. Leonard is not going to leap right back in to 35 minutes a night at full speed coming off this quadriceps tendon problem that has lingered since last season. He has to be eased in, and he’s going to take a while to find his groove.

The problem is the Spurs need him. Desperately. They are currently in a three-way tie for the eighth and final playoff slot, with the Jazz and Nuggets, but the Spurs have a much tougher schedule the rest of the way. Tuesday night they get LaMarcus Aldridge back in the rotation from injury, but the Spurs may need what Leonard brings on both ends to keep their two-decade playoff streak alive.