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Why the Spurs shouldn’t extend Kawhi Leonard’s contract

Jun 17, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT

Kawhi Leonard Kawhi Leonard

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.

  1. cantonbound13 - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:25 PM

    Remember when the Heat “fans” said LeBron doesn’t want the regular season MVP, he’s going to get the Finals MVP? That was funny!!!

    • 5xchamp24 - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:32 PM

      This article has nothing to do with LB

    • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:32 PM

      Well he should’ve won the Finals MVP. He was far and away the best player in the series. No one else was even close.

      • cantonbound13 - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:35 PM

        We all know he’s your MVP. I guess the restraining order doesn’t apply to internet activity.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:39 PM

        He was clearly the best player in the Finals. But it was a 1 on 5 affair. He probably should’ve been rewarded just for playing so well on his own.

        His Finals PER was 32.2. MJ has only reached that level of efficient productivity in the Finals once, in 1991. Mamba never has.

        Just saying.

      • cantonbound13 - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:42 PM

        11-16 Finals record. Putrid stat for the Chokin One.
        5-11 Finals record against the Spurs. Not exactly Mt Rushmore material.
        I don’t know where you get your made up stats but mine are real.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:48 PM

        That record is not an individual stat. Consider that he was going 1 on 5 in two of his five finals visits. Hard to win under those circumstances.

        Most players who get that far never have to deal with that. LeBron does because he’s good enough to drag one man teams to the finals. He’s a victim of his own greatness, in a way.

      • bucrightoff - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:38 PM

        Far and away? Not really. A guy who was far and away the best player doesn’t check himself out with 6 minutes left in an elmination game. A far and way better player can lead his team back.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:43 PM

        Cmon now, buc. You don’t even believe that James was going to lead the Heat back from down 18 with 6 minutes to play with nobody else helping him…

        Up until that point he played every minute and scored more than the rest of the starters combined.

      • azarkhan - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:39 PM

        But there’s the little matter of actually winning the Finals before you can be considered for MVP…

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:46 PM

        Nah. You don’t have to win to get Finals MVP. That’s just tradition, but it’s not a rule.

      • bucrightoff - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:50 PM

        Hey anti, since you love LeBron nuts, you do remember when Dallas came from 15 back with 6 minutes left against the Heat in 2011, Game 2 right? Or are you saying Dirk is way better than LeBron?

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:10 PM

        That was with 7 min left and Dirk had only played 35 min up until that point. He didn’t not come out in that game running around like LBJ, playing every minute trying to do everything to will his team to win because he was down 3-1. He hardly moves anyway, so why would he ever get tired?

        James’ legs were gone and he needed a break and some assistance. But he didn’t get the latter.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:14 PM

        That was with 7:13 left and Dirk had only played 35 min up until that point.

        He did not come out in that game running around like LBJ, playing every minute trying to do everything to will his team to win because he was down 3-1.

      • hickoryhigh - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:17 PM

        Anti, why are you trying to compare LeBron with Jordan and Kobe. Dude has two rings compared to 6 and 5 for Jordan and Kobe. LeBron isn’t even in their class.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 7:44 PM

        Age 29:

        LBJ: 4x MVP, 2x Finals MVP
        MJ: 3x MVP, 2x Finals MVP
        KBB: 1x MVP, 0x Finals MVP

        Maybe that’s why.

      • ranfan12 - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:47 PM

        I get a kick out of reading these arguments every week lol

      • JHathwell - Jun 17, 2014 at 6:14 PM

        Sorry to say it, but you dont really understand PER if you trumpet it as some defense of LeBron’s play in this series. It’s an efficiency stat, used to determine how much a player is doing on the court. It only tell part of the story.

        Do you know the real story of leBron’s failure in this and other playoff series where he lost? Not being aggressive enough and not imposing his will on the other team.

        Do you know how many shots he took in the finals? Do you know how many he took last year? You should probably look it up. If he’s supposed to be the greatest player of all time, why is he so deferential when it matters most? If he’s shooting 58% in the Finals, why isnt he shooting more?

        This is where the truth about LeBron gets spelled out. In a vacuum, the stats are otherworldly, but it’s what he doesn’t do that leaves him behind the top tier of greats. Those guys wouldnt have sat around while their team is getting smoked and not gone out on their sword. Those guys find a way to do more than blend in.

        Stop trying to make him something he isn’t. LeBron james is the most naturally gifted Basketball player of all-time. Most likely, he’s the most athletic players ever as well. As far as being the greatest, as in the most accomplished? Not even close, and he likely never will be.

        A lot of people might scoff at this comment on the surface, but the guy is actually capable of so much more than he’s done when you consider his gifts. Put the motor of a hyper-competetive guy Chris Paul, Jodan, Bird, Kbe, etc) in that 6’9, 270 LB body and god only know what he’s capable of.

        That’s the bottom line on LeBron. The guy is an absolute phenomenon. A physical marvel. Still, nobody with his pyschological make-up is ever going to be considered the greatest basketball player of all-time, so stop trying to make him that.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 7:18 PM

        So we’re going to praise the Spurs for being so unselfish – yet criticize LeBron for not ballhogging?

        No. I won’t stand for that. He didn’t score enough? He averaged 28.2 points when the Finals MVP averaged 17.8. He made 57 percent of his shots even with the entire Spurs team collapsing on all of his drives. They forced him to shoot from the outside, so he took over 5 threes a game and made 51 percent of those.

        Last year he took 3 more shots a game, averaged less points and shot 12 percent points lower (45%). Hence the Finals PER difference from 26.5 last year to 32.2 this year.

        LeBron was outstanding in this series by any measure – PER or any other.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 18, 2014 at 9:50 AM

        except for Leonard who SHUT LBJ down…

      • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 4:37 PM

        LeBron averaged 28.2 pts on 57% shooting and over 50% shooting from three (on 5 attempts a game) and he ended up with an astronomical 32.2 PER. If that’s the best Leonard can do then he is a terrible defender.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 18, 2014 at 4:41 PM

        Terrible defender that JUST WON THE MVP while guarding LEBRON in the FINALS.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 4:51 PM

        He won in spite of the fact that he couldn’t do anything to slow down LeBron. In fact, James won a game in San Antonio by himself when Leonard was somewhere sucking his thumb.

        The best defense played on LeBron – and by the Spurs in general – was from Duncan’s presence at the rim.

    • kinggw - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:19 PM

      You bring up LBJ when the story doesn’t even reference him, and then in the same breath make fun of someone for stalking LBJ. Sounds like the pot calling the kettle black and you’re the one with Lebron constantly on the brain.

      • cantonbound13 - Jun 17, 2014 at 6:01 PM

        Awe… Still sad about not accomplishing not 2? Hahaha!!!

  2. robigd - Jun 17, 2014 at 4:47 PM

    Can you imagine being antistratfordian’s spouse? You could never win an argument no matter how valid your point was. This little kid could argue that water isn’t wet with a serious look on his face.

    • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:02 PM

      No. I am not an idiot. Happy wife, happy life. I live by that.

      • cantonbound13 - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:58 PM

        Happy wife???? I thought you were a LBJ groupie. You sound like the little girls that defend Justin Beber.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 6:08 PM

        I wouldn’t know what little girls who defend Justin Beiber sound like.

    • av416 - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:05 PM

      antistratfordian is literally the worst guy in the basketball blogosphere. That is all.

      • urodaddy07 - Jun 17, 2014 at 8:08 PM

        @anti. Don’t know where you get your info but Kobe was Finals MVP in 2009 & 2010

    • jkirby317 - Jun 18, 2014 at 9:55 AM

      His spouse is a LBJ fathead he has as a headboard in his bedroom.

  3. unfrozencavemanlawyer2 - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:03 PM

    Kawhi owes his MVP trophy to Lebron. If LBJ wasn’t ‘defending’ him all series- he may not have won the MVP trophy at all.

    Is there anyway that our fave Miami troll could refrain from turning every thread below an article into an LBJ lovefest? There are plenty of other players In the NBA that merit discussion. I realize trolls gonna troll- but your activity level the last few days is really off the charts. Anyway- carry on with some stupid posts about how it was 1 vs 5 and the Spurs were extra motivated, and how Wade and Bosh aren’t done, and how they will all opt out and re-sign for less money. Your delusional posts are entertaining, if never thought provoking or insightful.

    • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:05 PM

      James wasn’t defending him all series.

      • unfrozencavemanlawyer2 - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:19 PM

        Often enough that Kawhi was able to take home the MVP.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:28 PM

        That’s not why he took home MVP. He took home MVP really because there was no one else to give it to. Kind of by default.

        He didn’t lead his team in scoring, or steals, or PER, or any other category – and he didn’t do his primary job which was to bother LeBron (who shot 57% on Leonard and had an outstanding series). And in 2 of the 5 games he was completely invisible.

        So I really don’t know why he won MVP.

      • riders008 - Jun 17, 2014 at 8:38 PM

        Hey anti……lbj left cleveland to form the big three…..stop saying it was o
        1 on 5 ….cause he chose those guys. It is his fault he has to carry them…..

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 9:15 PM

        Just because he chose them doesn’t mean that they would always show up. I’m not saying he “deserved” better or anything like that – just stating the simple fact that in this series his starting teammates scored less in the Finals than the ones he had in Cleveland in 2007.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 18, 2014 at 10:01 AM

        True… The first game LBJ had cramps and sat on the bench like a baby.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 4:41 PM

        James defended Tony Parker a lot – who ended up with a ho-hum 15.6 PER for the series. But LeBron is kind of a free safety on defense. He goes from Parker to Duncan to Diaw to Ginobili to Leonard, etc. depending on how the game is going.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 18, 2014 at 4:45 PM

        seemed like a great defensive approach by your friend, Eric. Right?

      • jkirby317 - Jun 18, 2014 at 4:46 PM

        Spo is your Bro too, right?

      • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 4:53 PM

        He is, yes. We are actually distant cousins.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 18, 2014 at 4:55 PM

        Hella distant. At least 500 feet of distance required by law, right?

      • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 5:00 PM

        Well, sure. We’re related in the same way Barack Obama is related to Winston Churchill.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 18, 2014 at 5:30 PM

        You mean like…not related. Or the same way that “everyone is from Adam and Eve”?

      • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 5:39 PM

        The same way you and I are related, bro.

      • jkirby317 - Jun 18, 2014 at 5:44 PM

        We are not. And that is my problem with fake people like you. You think everyone you meet is a friend. Every friend is family.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 6:23 PM

        For the love of god would you please take the stick out of your rear end? You need to lighten up. This is not a serious conversation we’re having.

    • spursfan4life - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:14 PM

      Kwahi could take on LBJ any day. Oh. wait… he already proved he could outplay him.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:29 PM

        He didn’t get anywhere near outplaying LeBron. He didn’t even outplay Patty Mills.

      • hickoryhigh - Jun 17, 2014 at 9:29 PM

        Kawhi played three GREAT games, LeBron played three great quarters. Enough said.

    • macka4 - Jun 17, 2014 at 6:40 PM

      Kawhi played an excellent all around game and series, it wasn’t just what he did against LeBron.

  4. reesesteel23 - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:04 PM

    Lol what is it with everyone ganging on Anti?

    and yet he STILL doesn’t go out of his way to call people out of their names or bash them for supporting their favorite player like everyone does to him.

    Kudos my friend. I don’t see how you do it and keep a cool head. It’s constant name-calling and berating and all you do is post stats to try and back up your talk. Again, Kudos.

    • av416 - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:07 PM

      You came to the wrong place to pledge allegiance to anti

      • kavika6 - Jun 18, 2014 at 3:33 AM

        It probably IS anti with a different account.

    • limonadamas - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:11 PM

      I agree.. Anti’s definitely trolling and having a good time with it. I appreciate that he doesn’t take it too far like some people and make things crazy or personal.

      • limonadamas - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:13 PM

        Oops.. I meant I agree with reesesteel23.

      • kavika6 - Jun 18, 2014 at 3:35 AM

        Creating 1 out of every 3 posts is taking it too far.

    • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:28 PM

      Heh. Haters. They’re AWOL when the Heat win.

      • bucrightoff - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:49 PM

        People I know who use the term haters:

        14 year old girls
        Fans of Drake and other substandard rap
        Justin Bieber fans
        Heat fans

        That is pretty much the list

      • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:57 PM

        ^^^ case in point.

    • antistratfordian - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:44 PM

      Hey, I really appreciate this actually. I’m glad someone noticed.

      • kavika6 - Jun 18, 2014 at 3:41 AM

        All hail the MVP of probasketballtalk’s most hated commenter, antistratfordian. It would take years for anyone else to achieve as many thumb downs as our king of hate.

      • antistratfordian - Jun 18, 2014 at 4:31 PM

        Still not anywhere close to the thumbs downs of Galileo, Darwin, Socrates, Descartes…

        Today’s thumbs down is tomorrow’s thumbs up.

    • jkirby317 - Jun 18, 2014 at 9:59 AM

      All he does is post stats? And back up his talk… with what? More talk about how he is “bros with the pros?”
      It makes SO MUCH SENSE that YOU would be buddies with him.
      Most people on here have favorite TEAMS not man-crushes on guys 15 years their younger.

    • justorion - Jul 31, 2014 at 2:45 PM

      I wish it was just stats, have you seen any of his post ever? Delusional sums them up. Gentleman’s sweep, they’ll all take pay cuts and ad melo so it can be 2 on 5 next year instead of 5 against 1. Yea, he brings it upon himself.

  5. pukpokito - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:15 PM

    The Spurs will not low ball the future of their franchise. That’s not who they are especially a potential Franchise player who conducts himself like Tim Duncan, at just 22 years old, already a Finals MVP and more than that plays well within the team’s system. I understand the writer’s logic but no.Spurs won’t let it go to that.

    • macbdog - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:24 PM

      If you read the article, you would know it would not be lowballing him to not do an extension. They can sign him for more- both in terms of per year and number of years- if they do not sign him to an extension this offseason. I agree it is stupid if the Spurs do it just to let another team negotiate his contract for him (that is, let him become a restricted FA) but not doing an extension now would not necessarily be a lowball move.

    • spursareold - Jun 17, 2014 at 6:29 PM

      If they let him get into restricted FA, and they probably will, they won’t have a choice. Someone WILL give him a MAX offer sheet.

    • macka4 - Jun 17, 2014 at 6:41 PM

      Just make sure you sign him, one way or another.

    • pukpokito - Jun 17, 2014 at 7:20 PM

      all great points.thanks.

  6. loubearkane - Jun 17, 2014 at 5:58 PM

    Who said K.Y. is a max player? He doesn’t even think that.

  7. mericanhero - Jun 17, 2014 at 6:00 PM

    Wondering if Shaq’s moniker, “Sugar ‘K’ Leonard” will stick. Kid plays a sweet game, if they can ever get over talking about how big his hands are instead of his game!

  8. gilbeezy28 - Jun 17, 2014 at 6:14 PM

    I will admit Lebron had a helluva series but last time I checked basketball was a team sport. I’m going to take a GREAT TEAM over a great player everyday!! And to say Kawhi didn’t bother him is ridiculous! No one player is going to stop Lebron but Kawhi made him work for every shot and was in his face constantly. Truth!

    • omeimontis - Jun 17, 2014 at 7:29 PM

      Leonard was getting into a lot of foul trouble and had limited playing time. The they decided to not try to guard LeBron so close and make him play D. That was the turning point. Leonard went on a scoring binge and basically cancelled out James’ scoring.

  9. spursareold - Jun 17, 2014 at 6:20 PM

    Another reason not to extend Kawhi yet is that his cap hold for 2015, as a 15th overall pick in 2011, would be MUCH lower than his extension salary, allowing more cap room to sign FAs before they sign him.

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