Report: Kawhi could return as early as Thursday vs. Pelicans
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports / Action Images

San Antonio Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard could make his return as early as Thursday against the New Orleans Pelicans, according to ESPN's Lisa Salters.

A quadriceps injury has limited Leonard to just nine games this season, with his last appearance coming Jan. 13. Despite warnings from head coach Gregg Popovich that he would be "surprised" if Leonard returned this season, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year made it clear shortly after that his desire was to return to action.

The Spurs - who rarely allow controversy to fall into the laps of the media - dealt with several questions about Leonard's reported rift with the franchise due to the handling of his injury.

Leonard played his first game of the season in mid-December, missing nearly two months of action to start the year. His inconsistent play and discomfort led to uncertainty from the coaching staff on his status.

It was reported in February the Spurs medically cleared Leonard for a return, but he opted to ignore the medical staff and chose not to return to the active roster.

In nine games this season, Leonard averaged 16.2 points and 4.7 rebounds in just 23.3 minutes of play. With 17 games remaining in the season and the Spurs having lost nine of their last 12 games, they could certainly use the 2014 Finals MVP as they make a push to reclaim home court advantage in a tight Western Conference.

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Report: Kawhi could return as early as Thursday vs. Pelicans
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