NEW ORLEANS -- In a storied career spanning more than 40 years at various levels, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he has "never" encountered the quadriceps issue that has kept Kawhi Leonard out of the lineup this entire season.
"Never, never," Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. "What's really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that's pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys."
Parker suffered a ruptured left quadriceps tendon last season during the Western Conference semifinals against the Houston Rockets and underwent surgery. But Parker continues to inch closer toward returning, and Popovich said he thinks Parker will be back "very soon."
"For real, sooner than later. And I'm serious. I'm being honest," he said.
Parker, 35, spent time working on a rehabilitation assignment with the team's G League affiliate, and mentioned early on during his recovery that he expected to return to the court in January. But when Parker returned for training camp with a clean bill of health in late September, he moved up the timeline, saying he would like to return sometime in November.
Leonard, meanwhile, hasn't played a game for the Spurs since Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, missing the rest of that series because of an ankle injury. Leonard came into training camp on San Antonio's injured list but hasn't yet been able to practice with the team.
Leonard needs to advance through a rehabilitation process that comprises several steps, including individual work followed by 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 drills, before he can get full clearance to return to the court. According to sources, Leonard is currently engaged in on-court work but hasn't yet advanced far enough to receive clearance to return.
The club is reluctant to offer a specific timeline for Leonard's return because there's a level of unpredictability involved with rehabilitation from quadriceps tendinopathy, a source said.
For the better part of the season, Popovich has replied "sooner rather than later" when questioned about Leonard's potential return.
"I keep saying sooner rather than later," Popovich said jokingly. "It's kind of like being a politician. It's all baloney, doesn't mean anything."
With Leonard out, fourth-year veteran Kyle Anderson has moved into the starting lineup and is taking advantage of the extra minutes, scoring in double figures on eight occasions in addition to notching three double-doubles.
"We're not surprised at all," Popovich said of Anderson's performance in Leonard's absence. "He's just had a hard time getting minutes with Kawhi at that spot. He's always been a good basketball player. I just haven't given him the minutes that he's gotten this year. When Kawhi does come back, I've got some figuring out to do, because he should still be on the court somehow or other. He's really taken advantage of the time, for sure."
The Spurs (11-7) lost Wednesday for just the third time in 10 games, 107-90 to the Pelicans.