Gregg Popovich on Kawhi Leonard: “When he and his group feel he’s ready, then he’ll be ready.”

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How do you interpret the tone of this quote?

Here’s what San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said on Saturday about Kawhi Leonard, freshly back from rehab in New York City, as the team got ready to take on the Western Conference-clinching Houston Rockets.

“When he and his group feel he’s ready, then he’ll be ready,” said Popovich.

I think it would be easy to read a lot into this, and even if you take the conservative approach and stop yourself from buying into a split between Leonard and the Spurs, you can at least acknowledge some exhaustion on the topic from all sides.

Certainly, that San Antonio has been able to play itself into the position it’s in — fourth in the West after a huge dip — without Leonard is incredible. No doubt they have to believe they’d be in an even better position if Leonard was able to return to the lineup.

And that’s the issue of contention, here. Leonard has been cleared by team doctors for some time. His own personal doctors have apparently given him advice to continue his rehabilitation.

In a year in which the Rockets are still considered the challenger, it’s hard not to see why the Spurs would want Leonard back as soon as possible. The Golden State Warriors have injury woes of their own — Stephen Curry won’t be back until the second round — and guys like Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Patrick McCaw have all taken knocks.

In an era which seems like it belongs to Golden State, one of the few flashes of opportunity for a Spurs dynasty that’s on the back nine of its run has to be when the Warriors are dinged up. Hell, that’s how the Cleveland Cavaliers snuck in a quick championship. All it took was Curry to have one wonky knee.

Despite held breath and possibly-maybe-sort-of-passive-aggressive quotes, the real issue at hand for those with their NBA sea legs is what San Antonio intends to do with Leonard’s contract this summer. Kurt pointed out earlier that if Leonard is deemed to be semi-damaged goods (á la Isaiah Thomas) that it might change the Spurs’ plans to give Leonard a designated player super max contract. It still seems unlikely they wouldn’t pull the trigger on that, but the negotiations between the two becoming public might give us more hindsight on what took place between the two sides regarding Leonard’s injury.