Leonard showed up at the AT&T Center for the team's annual picture but wasn't present minutes later when the Spurs took part in their shootaround before Wednesday night's 98-90 win over the Washington Wizards.
"He is not coming back," veteran guard Manu Ginobili said. "For me, he's not coming back because it's not helping [to think Leonard is returning]. We fell for it a week ago again. I guess you guys made us fall for it. But we have to think that he's not coming back, that we are who we are, and that we got to fight without him. That shouldn't be changing, at least until he is ready for the jump ball."
Sources told ESPN that Leonard's target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been "mid-March." But the team continues to list him as out on its official injury report as a component of what it calls "return-from-injury management."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would not put a timetable on Leonard's return, saying on Saturday the forward had not yet been cleared by his own team of doctors.
"Nothing has changed," Spurs guard Patty Mills said. "We obviously hope to get him back, and he's told us that he has taken control of what he can control rehab-wise and injury-prevention-wise. But for us, it's about focusing on what we can on the court. Because like we've said before: We've got to move on. We're at a very important part of the season, and we need to attack this part of the season with everything we have and not have anything else weighing on us."
Popovich said, "No, why would we do that?" when asked Monday whether there was a timetable for making a decision to shelve Leonard for the rest of the season.
"He's got to be cleared by his medical staff that he's seeing," Popovich said on March 14. "And until he gets cleared, we can't make a decision on when he's coming back. So once he gets cleared, then he and I can sit down and talk and see what we think about an appropriate time to come back. But that clearance has to be obtained first."
Popovich and sources within the organization have long maintained that the team will continue to err on the side of caution when it comes to Leonard's injury. It's expected the club will offer the forward a max contract extension worth more than $200 million over the summer.
Leonard stepped away to focus on rehabbing the injured quad after a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended on Jan. 13.
Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27 and is feeling "much better," according to the source. Eleven games remain in the regular season, but there remains optimism he will return this season, the source said.
Currently on the back end of a six-game home stand, the Spurs (41-30) defeated the Golden State Warriors on Monday for their fourth consecutive victory.
San Antonio sits at No. 5 in the Western Conference standings and hasn't missed the playoffs since the 1996-97 season.