There were a lot of factors that got helped fuel the distance between Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs, the primary one being the diagnosis/treatment of his quadriceps tendon injury.
However, sources have said some in Leonard’s camp had another wedge issue they used — Leonard’s shoe deal negotiations with the Jordan Brand. Leonard had been with Jordan since he came into the NBA, but when the sides sat down to discuss an extension last year, the numbers were reportedly in the four-year, $20-25 million range. Leonard’s camp thought that incredibly low compared to other elite players — James Harden around $14 million, Stephen Curry around $12 million, Damian Lillard around $10 million, with Kevin Durant and LeBron James well above those numbers.
Jordan isn’t going to up its offer and is willing to let Leonard walk away and become a sneaker free agent, reports Nick DePaula of ESPN.
The former San Antonio Spurs star, who was traded to the Toronto Raptors, has been a Jordan Brand endorser since coming into the league, but industry sources say that the company is going to let Leonard walk when his contract expires later this year. Extension talks between Leonard and the Nike subsidiary stalled earlier this year after Leonard turned down a four-year, $22 million extension…
Industry sources say most brands aren’t worried about his return from the right quad injury that saw him appear in only nine games this past season, and expect him to return to form on the court. There is, however, cause for concern about his prior lack of interest in endorsement deals and commercials, and his reluctance to play in flashy sneakers that can help draw attention to a brand’s new launches.
That is the real issue, not Leonard’s team or market size — he doesn’t put in the work to create a brand for himself. Look at Harden or Curry or Lillard or Russell Westbrook and you see players (the latter two in smaller markets) who are active on social media, show up to a multitude of events, do a lot of media — around games and outside of the court — plus do things like appear on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon or other talk shows. Those guys work to create their brand.
Leonard has never shown much interest in any of that. He doesn’t have an Instagram account and hasn’t put anything new on his Twitter account since 2015. Leonard doesn’t feel comfortable speaking to the media and does it as little as possible (and when he does it’s in short, non-answer sentences). That is his choice, and one fans and media should respect, but he can’t expect the financial rewards (or other perks) of having a big brand if he’s not going to do the work to create one.
Leonard will draw interest as a shoe free agent. Also on the market this summer are Joel Embiid, Gordon Hayward (rumored to be signing with New Balance), DeMarcus Cousins, the enigma that is Andrew Wiggins, and more.