The saga of Kawhi Leonard has been up and down since last year. We’ve seen the former NBA Finals MVP play more than 30 minutes only once this season, on January 2. He’s still out with a nagging leg injury, and reports out of San Antonio have had Leonard either not returning at all this season or coming back soon.
Leonard was also reported to have wanted out of San Antonio earlier this year, something that seemed completely at odds with how we’ve understood the Spurs organization is run and with the long-term goals of most NBA players. It seemed like mostly hearsay, but the fact that Leonard was even mentioned in rumors like that at all was a big enough departure to at least add it to our timeline for the long-injured star.
So let’s add something else to the mix you can either take as it is, or blow out of proportion: According to ESPN, Leonard and shoe sponsor Jordan Brand have stalled on a new deal.
Leonard, who will be a super max player in the summer of 2019, has been negotiating with Jordan on an extension. The talks have reportedly stalled, with Leonard’s camp apparently pushing for a bigger cut of the pie given his position and value on the floor.
For their part, Jordan seems to disagree on the extent marketability.
Jordan Brand, which is a division of Nike, and Leonard’s representatives came “very close” to completion on a new four-year extension worth more than $20 million. But discussions broke down abruptly because representatives for Leonard didn’t feel that the new deal reflected the forward’s accomplishments and standing within the league, sources said.
A two-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time All-NBA first team selection and Finals MVP, Leonard earns less than $500,000 per year in his current endorsement contract with Jordan Brand, which is worth significantly less than the deal currently on the table from the shoe company.
Jordan’s current extension offer does not include a Leonard signature shoe, which would escalate the value of the deal dramatically. Signature deals typically include a 5 percent royalty on all logo footwear and apparel sold, allowing for a handful of the game’s biggest stars to earn well north of eight figures annually from brands.
There’s a few things happening here. First, the question most will be asking is whether the most recent injury woes have had an effect on Leonard’s ability to put together marketing material around him. His quad injury has been a long, winding oddity that it seems not many have a firm grasp on. He might not make it to the floor again this year, but even when he does arrive back on the hardwood he will still be a top two-way player.
The second thing to consider — that much of Twitter is rabbling on about — is Leonard’s general marketability. Leonard has been in commercials both local and national, but being part of the Spurs brand has cut this public persona of the 26-year-old wing as an unsmiling, emotionless robot.
That’s not true (although it is fun to joke about in 280 characters or fewer) but perception is a large part of how companies like Nike and Jordan would value an extension for Leonard. On-floor accomplishments are a part of endorsement value, but national and regional marketability isn’t based on a single factor.
Still, Leonard is perhaps a Top 3 player on the wing in the NBA. The idea that he wouldn’t have a signature shoe, especially when both guys like Kevin Durant and LeBron James do, somehow feels odd. I’m not here to make marketing decisions for Jordan brand, but the idea that talks on Leonard’s shoe deal has stalled and that he might exit the Nike umbrella does sort of tic a box in the weirdest public basketball year of Leonard’s life.
This all could be simple posturing for a new deal — releasing sourced information to the media is often used as much. Perhaps we see Leonard back on the court and signed with Jordan Brand over the summer, the entirety of the 2017-18 season slowly fading over the horizon in our rearview mirror.