Kawhi Leonard proved to be a burgeoning star while leading the Spurs to the 2014 championship. He won Finals MVP at age 22, a huge accomplishment just before becoming eligible for his rookie-scale contract extension.
San Antonio gave him… zilch.
That actually made sense. Leonard’s cap hold in the summer of 2015 was just $7,235,148 until he signed. If he inked a max extension the previous year, his cap number would have been $16,407,500 the entire 2015 offseason. The Spurs used the resulting $9,172,352 in cap flexibility toward signing LaMarcus Aldridge. Then, they used Leonard’s Bird Rights to give him a max deal – with the exact same terms an extension would have stated.
The plan worked perfectly.
Unless it didn’t.
A few years later, Leonard requested a trade, which San Antonio granted yesterday to the Raptors. Obviously, his quad injury played a prominent role in the rift between Leonard and the Spurs. There was also contention over a super-max extension this year.
But that 2014 contract saga might have planted seeds of the fractured relationship.
It annoyed some in Leonard’s camp that the Spurs had him wait for a max contract after the 2014 Finals to keep cap space free for the following summer, but Leonard understood the logic and appeared to accept it, sources familiar with the matter say.
At the time – before he even got his max deal in 2015 free agency – Leonard said:
“I was never upset about (the extension),” Leonard said. “I mean they explained to me what their deal is and why they didn’t do it yet. That’ll play out. I’m just here to play basketball and have fun and try to win another championship. If I think about that, then I’m not going to be the same player that I am and will be just out of it. …
“I don’t think I’m going anywhere,” Leonard said. “I mean they love me here. I like the organization, and if it was up to me, I want to finish out with one team like a lot of great players have done, to stay with one organization their whole career and just be loyal to that. You never know. We’ll see what happens next summer, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be in a Spurs jersey for my whole life.”
How does it go from Leonard saying that on the record to this?
This report will accomplish two things:
1. It will raise even more questions about Leonard’s advisors – whether they know what they’re doing and whether they or Leonard run the show.
2. It will enable rookie-scale-extension-eligible players and agents to strike fear into teams. Nobody wants to wind up in San Antonio’s situation. In a copy-cat league, teams might become more willing to sign players to early extensions rather than wait for following summer for new deals – even at the expense of cap flexibility.