Leonard has missed all but nine games this season as he battles right quadriceps tendinopathy.
"We only have X number of games left this season and he's still not ready to go," Popovich said Wednesday. "And if by some chance he is, it's going to be pretty late into the season and it's going to be a tough decision. How late do you bring somebody back? That's why I'm just trying to be honest and logical. I'll be surprised if he gets back this year."
Tendinopathy is a disease of the tendon that includes tenderness and pain, particularly during exercise.
Leonard began experiencing discomfort in his leg late in the offseason, which caused him to sit out the team's training camp and preseason. Neither Leonard nor the team knew the severity of the injury, which forced the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year to miss the first 27 games of the season.
Leonard returned to play nine of the next 17 games, sitting out eight games as part of a scheduled "return from injury management."
He averaged 16.2 points and 4.7 rebounds in nine games this season, including 19 points in 29 minutes against Denver on Jan. 13. The 6-foot-7 forward complained of soreness and pain the day after playing the Nuggets and has not played since.
"We've got to move on, the team has to realize that this is who we are, this is who we have and this is who's going to play. Wishing and hoping doesn't do anybody any good. We've got to do what we can to be the best team possible."
The Spurs are third in the Western Conference despite lengthy injuries to Leonard, Tony Parker and Rudy Gay along with minor ailments to Danny Green and Kyle Anderson. San Antonio (35-24) is only 3 1/2 games ahead of the ninth-place Los Angeles Clippers, however.
Popovich and the Spurs have a history of being cautious with the health of their players. San Antonio opted not to play Tim Duncan in the first round of the 2000 playoffs against Phoenix due to a knee injury even though Duncan was cleared to play, leading to a five-game loss to the Suns.
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