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.

Tony Parker: My quad injury 100 times worse than Kawhi Leonard’s

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Tony Parker reportedly led a players-only meeting in which Spurs implored Kawhi Leonard to return.

Leonard injured his quad last season, has played just nine games this season and remains sidelined. The Spurs have reportedly cleared him, but he got second opinions and is waiting for his medical team to clear him.

Parker injured his quad last May then returned in November – and said at the time Leonard would return in 2-3 weeks.

Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News:

It’s not hard to read between these lines.

Though some Spurs reportedly told Leonard to return only once he feels ready, Parker is clearly applying pressure. It’s not working, but he’s apparently not stopping.

These comments don’t befit a healthy organization, which is just so stunning for the Spurs, whose excellent culture has been exalted for year.

Maybe Parker will get his wish, and a shamed-into-playing Leonard will lead San Antonio deep into the playoffs. But it seems more likely these quotes will just increase tension.

Celtics: Kyrie Irving to undergo ‘minimally invasive procedure’ on injured knee

AP Photo/Jim Mone

With uncertainty surrounding Kyrie Irving‘s knee injury, the Celtics announced a course of action.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics announced today that guard Kyrie Irving will tomorrow undergo a minimally invasive procedure to alleviate irritation in his left knee. Further information will be provided following tomorrow’s procedure, and the team will have no further comment until that time.

This is so vague. We barely know more than we did before.

Irving reportedly might need the pins removed from his knee, so that’d be the first guess at the type of procedure. But that’s just a guess.

The Celtics look vulnerable with Irving hobbled, which is big update from yesterday, when the Celtics looked vulnerable with Irving hobbled.

Tom Thibodeau denies report of Andrew Wiggins’ unhappiness as Timberwolves’ third option

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As soon as a rumor emerged Andrew Wiggins told teammates he was unhappy as the Timberwolves’ third option behind Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, Kurt predicted denials from Minnesota.

Here they are – at least one.

Wiggins, via Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune:

“It’s just someone’s word of mouth. It wasn’t no quote from me. Everyone that knows me knows I don’t talk much, I just go with the flow … I don’t whisper. If I say something, I’m going to say it clearly and loudly.”

Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau, via Zgoda:

“I know Andrew’s character. There’s no way in the world Andrew is saying any of that, particularly from a guy who’s taken the most shots on our team.”

Thibodeau sounds as if he’s just trying to shut down this talk, including maybe from Wiggins. That sure looks like a reminder to Wiggins that he leads Minnesota in shots. Thibodeau can’t know whether Wiggins complained to teammates. Thibodeau can defend his player publicly while implicitly warning his player to cut it out.

I’m unsure whether Wiggins actually denied it – whether he’s noting that he didn’t say it or just didn’t say it directly to the reporter, Darren Wolfson.

Wolfson is credible, and I believe he didn’t just make this up. But these things can sometimes get overblown as they get passed through the grapevine. If Wiggins is generally content in his role but told teammates he was struggling to get in rhythm a particular day because Butler and Towns were getting more shots, would that be noteworthy?

Wiggins’ statements to teammates could be inconsequential. They could signal a major problem brewing.

His response to the report doesn’t exactly lower the alarm. Wiggins doesn’t strike me as someone who speaks up loudly and clearly when confronted with an issue. When everyone in the world knew the Cavaliers were trading him for Kevin Love, Wiggins deflected. He remained vague when asked about the delay in signing his contract extension. To be fair, those were sensitive issues. But so is this.

Denied or not, Wiggins’ contentment on a team with Butler and Towns warrants monitoring.

Report: Grizzlies laugh and joke in locker room after 61-point loss

AP Photo/Chuck Burton

Marc Gasol lit into the Grizzlies.

And that was before their 61-point loss to the Hornets.

Gasol didn’t play in that one, but Memphis coach J.B. Bickerstaff took his turn with strong words after the game.

Bickerstaff, via Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal:

“One thing when you’ve got a bunch of young guys is they don’t understand what it takes to survive in this league,” Bickerstaff said. “If you want to make it there’s a matter of bounce-back, a matter of pride, a matter of mental toughness that you have to show on every given night and every opportunity you get. What happened tonight… there’s no defending the way we played.

“You believe because there’s opportunities you can get out there, do whatever you want and it’s my turn to play. Everything in this league is hard earned. If you’re not willing to make that sacrifice then you shouldn’t be in this league. If you can’t prove to people that that’s what you’re about then you won’t be in this league.”


Bickerstaff nor Gasol were in the locker room when it opened for media after the game. Perhaps that was a good thing because several Grizzlies players didn’t appear to take the loss hard given the amount of laughter and joking between them.

My question for anyone who has a problem with this: What would brooding and sulking do for these players? Seriously. How specifically would that help?

Also, what’s the appropriate waiting period for laughing and joking after a bad loss? A day? A week? Are these players just supposed to be miserable until they win next – which, the way things are going, might be next season?

I have no problem with players enjoying themselves in the midst of a long and dreadful season. Joy is important – to basketball and life.

Maybe the young Grizzlies aren’t appropriately dedicated to winning. That very well could be. I just don’t think a few minutes of locker room kidding proves that.

Besides, Memphis trailed by 30+ the entire second half. There was plenty of time to absorb the magnitude of this defeat and reflect on it before the locker room opened to the media.

It’s tough on players when everyone knows the Grizzlies are better off losing and improving draft position. Maybe nobody told the players to intentionally lose, but tanking manifests in an attitude throughout the organization. I doubt Memphis players enjoyed last night’s game.

I’m not going to scold them for moving on and lightening the mood afterward.