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

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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):

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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.

Video Breakdown: Cavaliers elevator doors fake out vs. Warriors in Game 4

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The 2017 NBA Finals are over but we just can’t quite move on to the summer without mentioning this play from the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Game 4 onslaught from 3-point range.

Yes, the Cavaliers hit a myriad of insane, falling over, lucky shots in their record-setting Game 4 win. But they also had a number of excellent plays drawn up by head coach Tyronn Lue, with one of them coming here in the first quarter.

The thing I love about this play the most is how it combines multiple actions to confuse one of the best defensive teams in the NBA in the Golden State Warriors. Cleveland mixed Floppy action with a sideline elevator doors play, getting both Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to overreact to Kyrie Irving.

Meanwhile, the real shooter ended up being one of the elevator doors screeners in Kevin Love.

Cleveland will need to regroup for next season if they hope to take on the Warriors yet again in the NBA finals in 2018. Meanwhile, check out this sweet video breakdown of a play that is straight out genius.

Watch Allen Iverson’s first bucket in Big3 League debut

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The Big3 League came to Brooklyn and put on a show (which you can see broadcast on FS 1 Monday night).

That includes coach Allen Iverson putting on a jersey and playing a little.

He got his first bucket taking a ball saved from going out of bounds, dribbling up to the elbow, and knocking it down. The crowd loved it. Iverson coached/played his team to victory thanks to Andre Owens putting up 20 points and 15 rebounds.

 

D’Angelo Russell makes first appearance at Barclays Center, gets booed

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Welcome to New York, D'Angelo Russell.

The Brooklyn Nets made a smart gamble before the draft and traded Brook Lopez (and his expiring contract) to the Lakers for the bloated contract of Timofey Mozgov and the promise of Russell. It’s a smart move to see if coach Kenny Atkinson can lift up the young point guard who shows promise but is inconsistent.

Nets fans don’t seem so thrilled. Russell showed up for the Big3 games at Barclays Center, and he did not feel the love, reports Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

These are New York fans, they would boo George Washington.

It’s simple for Russell, he just has to win them over. He gets a fresh start in Brooklyn and the baggage the Lakers saw him carrying is gone. It’s his chance to win a city over and be part of the future — but he will have to earn it.

Otherwise, it won’t be long or he will hear those boos again.

Spike Lee says not everyone at Nike thought Jordan should be face of company at first

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We have mythologized Michael Jordan into a man who could almost walk on water, and could certainly walk on air. He legitimately is the GOAT — or, at the very least, one of a handful of players ever worthy of being in that conversation — but the idea he is perfect is far from true.  (He was 6-7 in getting his team to the Finals, LeBron is 8-4, so LeBron lifted lesser teams farther, to use one devil’s advocate argument).

Not everyone always believed in Jordan, and that came out in a couple recent articles.

The Chicago Tribune ran a June 20, 1984, article about Jordan being drafted from their paper, where then GM Rod Thorn was not exactly selling Jordan as a franchise changing player.

“There just wasn’t a center available,” said Thorn. “What can you do?”

“He’s only 6-5,” said Thorn, who must use a different yardstick than Dean Smith, the Carolina coach. Down where the tobacco grows, Jordan has always been 6-6, not that one inch ever stopped Jordan from crashing the boards, hitting from the outside or playing substantially above sea level. By the time he gets to Chicago, or when negotiations for his wages get sticky, Jordan may be the size of a jockey. The Bulls aren’t even sure where to play Jordan. “Big guard, small forward,” said coach Kevin Loughery.

Jordan ended up being the perfect player at the perfect time — an all-time great who peaked just as the popularity of the game took off, and with a little help from Nike his image blew up.

Except, not everybody at Nike was down with Jordan being the face of the organization, Spike Lee told Sole Collector (remember Lee and his commercials helped blow up Jordan’s image).

“People don’t know about this, but the truth is a lot of people were speaking in Mr. Knight’s ear that it might not be too good for Nike to have Michael Jordan as the face of the company,” Lee revealed to Sole Collector. He added that there were worries that Jordan “might not appeal to white America, or the general market as a whole.”

Jordan, obviously, transcended the market and everything else.

But Jordan had his doubters and had his rough patches. He got his head handed to him year after year by the Bad Boy Pistons, who taught him how to win the hard way. He was thought of as the guy who couldn’t win the big one, who was too selfish a player to lead a team to a title.

In hindsight, it’s laughable. But that’s what you get when you try to define a person’s legacy before his career is over.