Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan

Kawhi Leonard’s continued evolution shapes Spurs’ present and future

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Kawhi Leonard, a white towel and gray shirt wrapped around his neck, stared down without making eye contact.

“I couldn’t be more proud of you,” Gregg Popovich told him. “You made some shots, and you played good D. But you competed – 50/50 balls, being active, the whole deal.”

Leonard might detest the spotlight – even a one-on-one moment with his coach during Game 4 seemed like too much attention for him – but he can’t escape it.

For the second straight game, Leonard was the Spurs’ best player. In San Antonio’s 107-86 Game 4 win over the Heat on Thursday, he scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds – another NBA Finals double-double for the 22-year-old.

Leonard now has five of the nine youngest double-doubles in the NBA Finals since 1985 with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James taking the rest. Pretty elite company.

Does Leonard belong?

He scored 29 points in Game 3, his highest-scoring game since high school, and defended relatively well. He looked like Paul George.

But, unlike Popovich, most observers didn’t believe.

They said it was a fluke. They said Miami hadn’t prepared for him. They said the San Antonio’s better players got him open.

“I’m just a ballplayer,” he said.

Leonard is a quiet presence who fits perfectly with the Spurs. Even when leading San Antonio in scoring in back-to-back games, he deflects publicity.

Unlike his scoring outburst in Game 3, Leonard showed his more-typical all-around game Thursday. Few in the NBA can match him across all four levels of the floor – inside and outside, offensively and defensively.

Leonard can make a spot-up 3-pointer over LeBron on one possession and do this on another. Only LeBron, George and Kevin Durant top Leonard in games this postseason with both a 3-pointer and dunk (nine).

On the other end, Leonard got three steals and blocked three shots. Miami shot just 39 percent and turned the ball over 11 times with him on the court.

In all facets, Leonard made his presence felt.

“He’s going to be unbelievable,” Tim Duncan said

Leonard’s overall stat line – 20 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, three steals, three blocks – is unmatched in the calendar year.

Last time someone did it in the playoffs? Duncan in 2008.

Last time someone did it in the Finals? Duncan in 2003.

At some point, Duncan will retire, and the Spurs could become Leonard’s. He’s not yet good enough to carry a team, but he might never need to fill that role. Leonard is so versatile, he’ll give Popovich and R.C. Buford plenty of flexibility for assembling a team around him.

For now, Leonard is happily excelling in his current position – one game from his first championship. I have a feeling Leonard is in store for many firsts in the coming years, though craving attention probably won’t be one of them.

51Q: Is there any reason the Jazz won’t be really good?

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 25:  Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz celebrates his three point during a timeout with Derrick Favors #15 and the bench at Staples Center on November 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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In the non-Warriors category, it’s hard to argue that very many teams had better offseasons than the Jazz when it comes to filling holes on their roster without giving up any core pieces. Utah’s weakest position last season was point guard — with Dante Exum out for the year rehabbing a torn ACL, things got so bad that a midseason trade for career backup Shelvin Mack was considered a major upgrade. This summer, they flipped a lottery pick they didn’t really want to Atlanta in a three-team deal that got them George Hill, as solid a starting-caliber point guard as would realistically be available for them. Hill’s playmaking and outside shooting immediately improve Utah’s offense and gives Snyder a rock-solid veteran to take pressure off Exum coming back from missing a full year of action. Even if the Jazz view Exum as their long-term answer at point guard, it’s going to take him a full year to get back up to speed, and having Hill means he has to do less right away.

The Jazz’ other major upgrade came with the signing of seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson to a two-year, $22 million deal. Johnson isn’t a first or second option on offense anymore at this point in his career, but as a veteran scorer off the bench, he can still be effective and should be a great fit in the offense. Taking on Boris Diaw‘s contract could prove savvy, too, if he’s as engaged as he was in San Antonio.

Beyond the roster upgrades, the driving force of all the Jazz optimism this summer is how well all of their young pieces fit together, and the potential for improvement from all of them. Nobody knows what Exum will be, but even if Utah gets nothing out of him, they have an enviable core just entering its prime. Rudy Gobert is one of the most lethal rim protectors in the league at 24 years old. Derrick Favors has developed into an excellent all-around power forward. Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood provide a potent scoring combo on the perimeter, and if Alec Burks is healthy, he can help there too.

Report: Incentive bonuses in Yi Jianlian’s Lakers contract would septuple his salary if he plays 59 games

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Jianlian Yi #11 of China controls the ball as Nikola Kalinic #10 of Serbia defends during the preliminary round game at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Yi Jianlian’s unconventional contract terms with the Lakers had slowly emerged. He’ll earn somewhere between $250,000 and $8 million next season, $1,139,123 just for remaining on the roster through Jan. 10.

But that left a huge sum to unknown incentive bonuses.

Now, they’re known.

Yi can trigger $2,286,959 bonuses for hitting three benchmarks based on games played, according to Basketball Insiders. Here’s the running total for those incentives:

  • 20-39 games played: $2,286,959
  • 40-58 games played: $4,573,918
  • 59+ games played:$6,860,877

Whether or not he plays or is even active, Yi will earn $6,701 each day he’s on the roster from Oct. 25 until Jan. 10 (with a guaranteed minimum of $250,000 in total income). Then, if he’s still on the roster Jan. 10, Yi will lock in another $623,167. That’s his base compensation.

But the bonuses – for actually playing in games – are far more lucrative.

Here’s how Yi’s salary would increase throughout the season, which begins Oct. 25 and ends April 12, if he plays every Lakers game:

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Of course, Yi might not play every game.* So, those three big jumps can be slid back accordingly. The Lakers did well to build Yi’s contract around incentives they have complete control over.

*If Yi doesn’t trigger his first games-played bonus so quickly, his base salary ($6,701 per day) would pass his guaranteed minimum ($250,000) Dec. 1.

The NBA Constitution calls for the trade deadline to be the 17th Thursday of the regular season, which would be Feb. 16 this year – before Yi can earn his third bonus and maybe before he earns one or two. This makes him an intriguing trade chip. Because his cap number will be $8 million throughout the season, he could help fetch a higher-priced player in a trade. Then, the team that acquires him could waive him and pay only what he had earned to date.

But before it gets to that point, Yi will try to fight his way into the rotation.

There’s a lot on the line.

Jason Terry says he reached out to multiple contenders, then settled on Bucks

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 27:  Jason Terry #31 of the Houston Rockets dribbles the ball against the Golden State Warriors in Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on April 27, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Jason Kidd wanted Jason Terry to come to Milwaukee to provide a veteran presence for a young team. There are not a lot of minutes to go around — Matthew Dellavedova and Kris Middleton start in the backcourt, and Giannis Antetokounmpo will have the ball in his hands a lot — but there is a chance for Terry to mentor and share run with Rashad Vaughn and Malcolm Brogdon.

Before signing with the Bucks, Terry said on his SiriusXM NBA Radio show Monday he considered other options including Cleveland and Golden State.

“I had a couple of contenders that I was seriously looking at. Two of them were in the Finals. I made a call to Pop. San Antonio was another one.”

“I always thought about going back and trying to finish off where I started in Atlanta. I liked what they did. And then I seriously considered Boston, though we didn’t have a conversation.”

Terry also said there was interest in the Lakers.

How many of those teams were interested in him is another question.

Last season, Terry was solid for the Rockets showing some playmaking skills, and a catch-and-shoot game that included knocking down 35.6 percent from three. But he’s not a fit everywhere, for example, an up-and-coming team like Boston makes little sense for Terry because the Celtics are loaded at the guard spots. Could the Cavaliers have used him as a Kyrie Irving backup? Maybe. But there were limited fits. As evidenced by the fact Terry took the veteran minimum to play for the Bucks.

That said, he could be a good fit in Milwaukee. I just wouldn’t get another Larry O’Brien tattoo just yet.

Report: After failing to trade him, Heat tell Josh McRoberts he is in their plans this season

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 13: Josh McRoberts #4 of the Miami Heat handles the ball in the first half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on April 13, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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When Josh McRoberts signed in Miami, he was going to be part of the post-LeBron relaunch of the team — and it seemed like a smart signing. However, in two seasons injuries have limited McRoberts to 59 games total, meaning  891 minutes. When he has played, he has been a shell of his former self. Which is too bad, because healthy McRoberts was a lot of fun to watch — he could shoot the ball to space the floor, plus was an active defender.

The Heat have tried to move McRoberts in a trade for a while now, but with no takers — the Heat were going to have to throw in a pick or other sweetener to get a deal done, so they backed off. Now, the Heat have pivoted and are telling McRoberts he is part of their future plans, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald.

Though he was mentioned in trade rumors previously, the Heat has indicated to Josh McRoberts’ camp that he’s in the team’s plans for this season, his agent said, adding Miami called to go over his offseason training and make sure everyone is on the same page.

McRoberts will make $5.8 million this season and has a $6 million player option for 2017-18. But the Heat will need to dump someone with a guaranteed deal if it wants to keep point guard Briante Weber.

Why the change? Miami has a question mark at the power forward spot: Will Chris Bosh play? If so, will he be limited in minutes or travel? While there are hints from the organization Bosh will be on the court, nothing is set in stone. Behind him at the four spot are McRoberts, Derrick Williams, and the veteran Udonis Haslem.

Meaning it might be wise for Miami to hold on to McRoberts to see if he both can play and is needed. However, I’d be shocked in I didn’t hear his name come up in trade rumors again.