Why the Spurs shouldn’t extend Kawhi Leonard’s contract


Kawhi Leonard seemed to pick the absolute right moment to play the best basketball of his life.

Just before he can get paid.

Leonard, whom the Spurs drafted in 2011, can sign a contract extension between July 10 and Oct. 31. If that window closes without a deal, he’ll become become a restricted free agent in 2015.

Either way, Leonard will make $2,894,059 next season, the final year of his rookie-scale deal. But that will be the last season he earns such a pittance. The only unknown is how large Leonard’s raise will be, and that leads to the first issue:

Is Leonard a maximum-contract player?

That the question must be asked says more about the Spurs than it does about Leonard.

He’s played so well and proven so much, and he’s just 22. Barring a big drop next season, he could certainly command a max offer sheet as a free agent in 2015.

In the last decade, just 20 first-round picks have produced as many win shares as Leonard through three seasons, when they became eligible for contract extensions. So far, 15 of those 20 have received max deals – 14 by extension.* Only Brook Lopez had to wait until free agency for his, and Greg Monroe – a free agent this summer who’s seeking a max contract – could make it 16 of 20 with max contracts following their four-year rookie deals.**

*Max contract is a term with multiple definitions. Here, I mean any contract that starts at the maximum allowable salary for a typical fifth-year player.

**The other four – Al Horford (five-year, $60 million extension), Rajon Rondo (five-year, $55 million extension), Andre Iguodala (six-year, $80 million re-signing), Luol Deng (six-year, $71.06 million re-signing) – also did pretty well for themselves.

So, why don’t the Spurs skip the hassle and just give Leonard the max this summer?

For one, the most they can offer him – in an extension now or in free agency in 2015 – is substantially more than another team could offer in free agency.

Using a crude 2015-16 cap projection (assuming the cap rises from 2014-15 the same amount its projected to increase from 2013-14), here are the maximum amounts Leonard could get re-signing or extending his deal with the Spurs (black) or signing an offer sheet with another team (silver):


Year Re-signs or extension Signs offer sheet
2015-16 $15,812,511 $15,812,511
2016-17 $16,998,450 $16,524,074
2017-18 $18,184,388 $17,235,637
2018-19 $19,370,326 $17,947,200
2019-20 $20,556,265
Total $90,921,940 $67,519,423

If Leonard wins MVP next season, these numbers could be higher, but that’s so obviously so unlikely, I’m ignoring the possibility in this post.

In some sense, it behooves the Spurs to let Leonard become a free agent and bring back an offer sheet and then just match it. That’s especially true, because San Antonio can’t sign him to a five-year extension without offering the full max.

But if the Spurs let Leonard become a free agent next summer, they can re-sign him to a five-year deal at any salary. That – not an extension – is their best ticket to locking him up for the longest possible length of time.

So, unless the Spurs want to sign Leonard for just four years beyond next season or pay as much as possible to keep him for five extra years, they shouldn’t extend him this summer.

Next summer, he’d become a restricted free agent, and then San Antonio could reward Leonard – at least to a degree.

[RELATED: Spurs expect Tim Duncan to return next season]

The Spurs have a history of convincing their top players to re-sign for less than market value. When it happens in San Antonio, it’s called loyalty. When it happens in Miami, it’s called blasphemy. But it happens repeatedly in San Antonio.

As long as Leonard doesn’t regress in the next year, accepting anything less than the $67,519,423 figure is on him. He’s been hailed as a worthy member of the Spurs team-first culture, and if he’s willing to leave money on the table, good for him.

And if the Spurs pay him more than that, it should be only to get that fifth year tacked on. Leonard would have little leverage to command the full $90,921,940.

Will either side play hardball when it comes to splitting the difference? It seems out of character for both.

I’d think the Spurs would want to re-up Leonard for five more years beyond next season without paying him the full max, and I’d think he’d accept that – which is why an extension wouldn’t work. Remember, five-year extensions to rookie deals require max salaries and raises.

Next offseason, Leonard could chase a four-year max offer sheet from another team – which the Spurs would likely match – or just re-sign in San Antonio on a five-year deal for less than the highest possible amount.

That plan would require Leonard betting his value remains high a year from now, which is probably a wager worth taking. Why should Leonard rush to give the Spurs a hometown discount?

And why should San Antonio rush to max out Leonard?

Leonard isn’t going anywhere. The Spurs control his rights for the next couple years minimum, and Leonard would have to sacrifice a lot of money to escape San Antonio even that quickly.

Not that he’d want to do that.

This is a happy partnership. The Spurs just won an NBA championship with Leonard leading them to the finish. It’s a partnership worth continuing.

It just makes most sense to set the terms of the next chapter next summer rather than this one.

Isaiah Thomas rewarded on epic flop with offensive foul call vs. Heat

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Why do NBA players flop on defense? Because it works.

While there is less of it than there was a couple of years back — when the NBA made a big show about calling more flops and warning (then eventually fining players a pittance) for the move — it still exists. Case in point, this impressive one from Isaiah Thomas of the Lakers on Tyler Johnson of the Heat Friday night (hat tip AminElHassavag at NBA Reddit).

Was there a little contact, sure, but Thomas fell back like he was shot by the second gunman on the grassy knoll. He exaggerated the contact, which is the definition of flopping. Thing is, he got the call (the ref who made the call, from his position, might only have seen the contact and not necessarily the extent of exaggeration, but that’s where the other officials need to step in).

Not that everything went Thomas’ way Friday night.

Suns’ Marquese Chriss, Jared Dudley fined $25,000 each for knocking down Ricky Rubio


Marquese Chriss and Jared Dudley got off light.

There should have been suspensions involved for the cheap shots leveled on Ricky Rubio by the pair during Thursday night’s blowout Jazz win. Instead, the pair were fined $25,000 a piece by the league Saturday for this incident.

Rubio has a knee contusion from the incident Jazz coach Quin Snyder confirmed, however, Rubio is available to play Saturday vs. the Kings.

Dudley was given a flagrant 2 and ejected at the time, Chriss was handed just a flagrant 1 for his escalation. I don’t completely buy Dudley’s explanation here either — I think they were pissed Rubio stepped over a down Chriss to inbound the ball and made him pay for it — but he did own up to it being excessive.

So to be clear, if you throw a haymaker and miss — as Aaron Afflalo did recently — that’s a two-game suspension. But if you throw or body check a player to the ground, that’s just 25 large, no time missed. Players wanting retaliation will take note of that.

Roulette tables are less random than the NBA’s enforcement policies.

Check out Terrance Ferguson’s acrobatic layup vs. Clippers (VIDEO)


It was supposed to be an alley-oop.

However, Raymond Felton‘s pass was low. And not just a little low, a few feet low.

Oklahoma City’s athletic rookie Terrance Ferguson was leaving the ground as the pass was thrown, meaning he had to make an in-air adjustment — and the results were spectacular.

Corey Brewer continues to be key, scores 22 as Thunder beat Clippers 121-113

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Five starts, five wins for Corey Brewer with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The recent addition scored 22 points and matched a career high with six steals to help the Thunder beat the Los Angeles Clippers 121-113 on Friday night.

The 32-year-old Brewer was bought out by the Los Angeles Lakers late last month, allowing Oklahoma City to pick him up as a free agent. As a starter with the Thunder, he is averaging 14.8 points in the shooting guard spot vacated when Andre Roberson ruptured his left patellar tendon and had season-ending surgery.

Brewer said it has been easy to fit in because he played college ball for Thunder coach Billy Donovan at the University of Florida.

“I won’t say it’s surprising,” Brewer said. “It’s a comfort level. I keep telling everybody, coach Donovan makes me feel really comfortable. I won two national championships with the guy. It’s just his demeanor and the faith he has in me that makes the game easier.”

Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook had 16 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists for his 22th triple-double of the season and the 101st of his career. Brewer said playing Westbrook’s up-tempo style has been fun.

“Yeah, I love to run,” Brewer said. “That’s my game. I can run all day, so having Russell Westbrook pushing on the break just running to get a layup – it’s easy.”

Paul George scored 19 points and Steven Adams added 18 points and 14 rebounds for the Thunder, who swept all three games from the Clippers this season.

Oklahoma City, one of several teams in the race for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, won its fifth straight and clinched a winning season. It was the start of a difficult closing stretch against mostly teams in playoff contention.

Adams created problems for the Clippers all night.

“He’s a good basketball player,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I almost think that’s a slap just to call him and energy player because he is a skilled basketball player with high IQ and is just extremely physical. It seems like every time we got a big stop, he got it back for them, so you just have to give him credit.”

Tobias Harris scored 24 points and Austin Rivers added 23 for the Clippers, but the Thunder scored 31 points off Los Angeles’ 23 turnovers. DeAndre Jordan had 11 points and 21 rebounds.

“They are fifth in the league for fast breaks,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “You don’t turn the ball over. You turn the ball over that many times, you’re going to lose the game.”

Brewer and Adams carried the load in the first half, scoring 14 points each to help the Thunder take a 63-56 lead.

Terrance Ferguson got a 3-pointer to rattle in early in the fourth quarter to give the Thunder a 94-87 lead. He later caught a pass in midair around his waist, and then kicked his legs out and hesitated before making a reverse layup to bump the lead to 96-88.

Westbrook clinched the triple-double on a rebound in the fourth quarter. His mid-range jumper gave the Thunder a 116-107 lead and forced a Clippers timeout, and Oklahoma City maintained control from there.