Kawhi ‘working hard’ at return, Popovich says

Less than a week after saying he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returned to play this season, Gregg Popovich has apparently changed his tune.

The coach of the San Antonio Spurs said Leonard, the first-team All-NBA forward who has missed all but nine of San Antonio’s 62 games this season because of a right quadriceps injury, will return when he believes he’s ready.

“Of course, there’s a protocol. He’s doing what he’s supposed to do,” Popovich said. “He’s working hard at it. He wants to get back, and when and if he feels like he is ready to go, he will be there.”

Leonard’s teammate, Danny Green, believes Leonard, who has returned to the Spurs’ practice facility to continue his rehabilitation, will return before the end of the season.

“It’s always good to see his face,” Green told reporters. “He said he’ll be back, so we knew he was going to be back eventually at some point — playing-wise, not just being around. If he’s that confident mentally, I know he’s going to get the work done to get it done physically.”

Leonard, 26, has not played in a game since a Jan. 13 victory over the Denver Nuggets, which more than likely prompted Popovich’s comments about him not returning this season.