Kawhi Leonard

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.

Report: Multiple executives expect Knicks to keep Kurt Rambis

New York Knicks head coach Kurt Rambis calls out a play from the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Friday, April 8, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Knicks won 109-102. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
AP Photo/Michael Perez
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Phil Jackson reportedly pushed for the Knicks to give Kurt Rambis a multi-year contract. Jackson isn’t searching for another coach right now.

You do the math.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Multiple executives around the league expect Rambis to get the job.

The usual question applies: Do these executives know something we don’t, or are they just reading the same writing on the wall? They’re positioned to glean inside information, but that isn’t necessarily required here. All the public circumstantial evidence points to Rambis.

This is another signal the Knicks will make Rambis their permanent head coach, but it was already looking that way.

Goran Dragic’s teeth went through his lip last night (video)

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Goran Dragic has a habit of losing teeth, but not usually through his lip.

Cringe.

Report: Jeremy Lin indicates he’ll opt out, says he wants to re-sign with Hornets

Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin reacts after scoring against the New York Knicks during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. Charlotte won  97-84. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
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Jeremy Lin said the Hornets “came out of nowhere” to sign him last summer.

His salary shows it.

With the market for Lin depressed following a dismal season with the Lakers, Charlotte snagged Lin for just the bi-annual exception. At least Lin – who bounced back with a solid year – got a player option for next season, when he’s due to make just $2,235,255.

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

Lin indicated he plans to opt out of his contract

Lin, who can opt out of next season on his contract, says he’d very much like to re-sign with the franchise this summer.

“I would love to,” Lin said Monday. “I don’t like moving every year, I don’t like packing and unpacking boxes. So we’ll see. But I’m definitely interested in coming back.”

“This is the most fun I’ve had in my six years” in the NBA, Lin said. “Being around a great group of guys and a coaching staff that really cares. I’ve learned so much about the game of basketball, particularly at the defensive end.”

The Hornets face a summer of tough choices after relying on so many players with expiring contracts.

Let’s say Charlotte renounces Troy Daniels, Jorge Gutierrez and Tyler Hansbrough and waives Aaron Harrison, whose salary is unguaranteed. The Hornets might not drop those low-cost players, but if it makes the difference between retaining a rotation player or not, they probably would. So, for these purposes, they’re out.

Counting cap holds for Nicolas Batum and Courtney Lee, Charlotte would project to have just more than $12 million in cap space. The Hornets could spend that money then exceed the cap to re-sign Batum and Lee, whose 2016-17 are likely to top their cap holds ($19,687,961 for Batum, $10,782,500 for Lee).

But that leaves just about $12 million to re-sign Lin, Marvin Williams and Al Jefferson.

Charlotte has Lin’s Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), but because his cap would match the match the Non-Bird Exception ($2,682,306), that doesn’t matter here. It also doesn’t matter because Lin will command far more than that. So, cap space will be needed to re-sign him.

Ditto Williams and effectively Jefferson. The Hornets could pay Williams $12.25 million next season with the Early Bird Exception, but that likely won’t be enough to keep him. Charlotte has Jefferson’s full Bird Rights, but his 2016-17 salary is likely to fall short of his cap hold ($20,250,000). So, re-signing him or renouncing him creates more room than keeping his hold on the books.

With the salary cap projected to reach $92 million, giving most teams max cap space, $12 million might allow the Hornets to keep one of Lin, Williams or Jefferson. Maybe. Lin and Williams could probably get more elsewhere, and Jefferson would have an outside chance.

Now, Charlotte would clear more room if Batum and/or Lee walk. But the Hornets have called Batum their top priority, and he sounds like he wants to re-sign. Lee has also proven valuable, and I’d be surprised if there’s not also a major effort to retain him.

Charlotte could clear extra room by trading Spencer Hawes ($6,348,759) and/or Jeremy Lamb ($6,511,628), two players whose salaries will look decent in the new cap environment. But that still might not open enough space to keep two of Lin/Williams/Jefferson if Batum and Lee stay.

Williams, a starter, would probably be the top priority. But he could also probably draw the largest offers elsewhere, so he might price himself out of the Hornets’ range.

Lin holds more value than Jefferson, even as Kemba Walker‘s backup. Jefferson has ceded the starting center spot to Cody Zeller, and Jefferson’s low-post style might not fit Charlotte anymore.

But Lin might have also priced himself out of the Hornets’ range. It’s a thin free-agent class at point guard, and teams that strike out on Mike Conley (and maybe Rajon Rondo) could extend a huge offer to Lin.

He clearly likes it in Charlotte. The question might become: How much of a discount would he take to stay?

Byron Scott says he wants to coach again, should have played his veterans even more

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott watches the action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
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Deposed Lakers’ coach Byron Scott did a media tour on Thursday — radio interviews up and down the dial, plus speaking to some members of the Los Angeles media.

It was a tour d’ force of all the things that had Lakers’ fans shaking their heads all season long. Take this quote given to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.

“If I knew this was coming, I would have played Lou [Williams], Brandon [Bass] and guys like that a whole lot more,” Scott said, referring to his veterans in an interview with this newspaper. “They gave me the best chance to win.”

He didn’t know his job was in danger? That would make one.

Scott was asked to do two contradictory things as Lakers coach: Put Kobe Bryant in the spotlight his final couple seasons while also developing the Lakers’ young talent. That was never going to lead to many wins — and Lakers’ brass understood that.

However, if your team is one of the two worst defensive teams in the league in consecutive years, that’s also not all about the roster. That’s about not getting buy-in from the players and effort to play whatever system he put in place. These Lakers teams didn’t hustle for Scott.

Scott admitted he was old school, but told Rich Eisen on the Rich Eisen Show (hat tip Eye on Basketball) that so is Gregg Popovich, and he’s doing just fine. Which shows a lack of understanding of the nuance with which Popovich works. Unlike the coach with a touch for praise at the right time in San Antonio, Scott’s old-school, tough-love ways turned off the young Lakers — it wasn’t just having them come off the bench, it was what was seen by the young players as a lack of communication as to why. A lack of coaching them up.

But Scott took credit on ESPN’s “The Jump” for the improved play and development of D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle last season. He said he needed to rein in Russell’s ego and get him to be professional, and he said his plan “worked.” Whether Russell’s development happened because of or in spite of Scott depends on who you ask, but the young potential star’s relationship with his coach was not good. That’s one thing Luke Walton was brought in to change.

Scott said multiple times over the course of the day he wants to coach again. His last two jobs — Cleveland post LeBron and with the Lakers — were about developing young talent and none of those five teams finished better than 12 games under .500. I’d say that would damage future job prospects, but this is the NBA so who knows. He may get another chance in a few years.