"Don't you have to sign him," a rival executive said. "From what I understand, he wants Popovich to lighten up a little with practice and tweak some things. The Spurs may not want to change their ways, but this is Kawhi Leonard we're talking about."
The 26-year-old Los Angeles native was a prime MVP candidate coming into the campaign after developing into one of the NBA's most well-rounded players since getting selected in the first round of the 2011 draft.
Instead, Leonard appeared in just nine games during the regular season and missed the playoffs as the Spurs were eliminated in the first round by the reigning champion Golden State Warriors in five games.
Popovich didn't shed much light on the two-time All-Star selection's availability late in the season, usually referring people to Leonard's "group" about a possible return.
"You'll have to ask Kawhi and his group that question," Popovich told reporters April 15. "So far, they say that he's not ready to go, so we can't do anything until that happens…and then we would have to decide what's going on from there. But that's the first thing that has to happen."
Leonard has one guaranteed year left on his contract and holds a player option for the 2019-20 season, per Spotrac. The Spurs can sign him to a five-year "super max" extension as early as this summer.
Ultimately, the lack of information about Leonard's health and the apparent rift his continued absence appeared to create with the organization will make his status with the Spurs one of the offseason's top storylines.
He's one of the NBA's best players when healthy, but it's hard to imagine San Antonio getting fair market value in a potential trade based on what's happened. So finding a path to reconciliation before next season may be the best option for everybody involved.