Before everybody jumps on my back and chastises me, I want to say Kawhi Leonard definitely does deserve a contract extension with San Antonio.
That being said, the Spurs were very smart not to give into Leonard’s demands and extend the emerging star to a maximum contract.
Kawhi Leonard has earned an extension, he has been solid for the San Antonio Spurs and even outstanding at times such as 2014 NBA Finals performance, but he is not worth a five-year $90 million deal, at least not yet.
Why does Kawhi Leonard not deserve a max deal right now? Scroll through the slides to find out!
When the 2014-2015 NBA season ends, Kawhi Leonard will enter the summer as a restricted free agent. This means he is allowed to pursue any deal with any of the other 29 teams in the association. The one kicker is that the Spurs have the ability to match any offer sheet Leonard signs.
This is smart business for San Antonio to not extend the 6-foot-7 small forward solely for this reason.
The San Antonio Spurs know they will have to spend money on re-signing Kawhi Leonard but it is better for the market to determine his value. The worst case scenario for the Spurs, which really is not a bad worst-case, is the market determines Leonard’s value to be the max.
If that is the case, San Antonio will simply be spending money they anticipated to give Leonard had a max deal been the only conclusion the two sides could have come to.
The best part for the Spurs though is if the market determines Kawhi Leonard’s value to below the maximum. If that ends up being the case, San Antonio will end up saving money which they can use to further bolster the roster.
In addition to the contractual circumstances surrounding Leonard, there are also some team circumstances that make the decision to not extend the former San Diego State University star a smart one.
Two members of the Spurs big three, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, will be retiring soon. This factor plays a huge role in contract decisions because these two stars eat up a good chunk of the salary cap.
Depending on Duncan and Ginobili’s decisions to retire, there could be a much different situation in the salary cap for the Spurs come summer 2015.
The final circumstance we will discuss, and one of the more important when considering this situation, is the overall situation of the San Antonio Spurs franchise.
The Spurs are widely considered to be one of the NBA’s best franchises top to bottom. They have a strong head coach in Gregg Popovich, an intelligent General Manager in R.C. Buford, and a great owner in Peter Holt.
The reason I mention San Antonio’s great staff is because Kawhi Leonard is in a unique situation where he can become the number one option on one of the best NBA teams.
This is a strong selling point and helps negotiations because it allows the Spurs to enter contract talks with an advantage. Even though San Antonio could not come to terms with Leonard, this opportunity has to be enticing for him moving forward.
When you have an opportunity to star for such a great franchise it’s tough to turn it down. There are many factors on the back-end that make doing a deal with lesser money in order to be a team’s first option a great decision.
Endorsements are a huge part of this and if Leonard chooses to stay with the Spurs, he could be in for a big payday from endorsement deals.
Who doesn’t want products from the best player on one of the NBA’s top teams?
This makes failed negotiations a non-issue because Kawhi Leonard can return to this team and be a number one option eventually.
Kawhi Leonard has arguably been the best player from the 2011 NBA Draft from a standpoint of accolades and statistics.
No other player selected before Leonard has been able to say they have won an NBA championship, much less an NBA Finals MVP award.
Leonard also has the statistics to back up his accolades, averaging 17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds on an impressive 61.2% shooting during the finals.
Kawhi Leonard’s production is very similar to Kenneth Faried. Is an NBA Finals MVP and an all-defensive team selection enough to justify and extra year plus $40 million more than Faried’s extension?
Even with those great numbers, the San Antonio Spurs would have made a mistake re-signing Kawhi Leonard to the five-year, $90 million deal the forward was asking.
One interesting statistic to look at when trying to find Leonard’s worth is his similarity score. This score is a number produced by Basketball Reference that compares a player’s win shares per season to other player’s win shares per season, trying to find a perfect match.
The similarity score that is important to look at for Leonard is his similarity score through his first three seasons.
According to win shares and Basketball Reference’s similarity score, the 23-year-old star is quite similar to another member of the 2011 draft class who recently received an extension.
That player is Kenneth Faried.
Faried is an interesting subject to look at because of his recent contract extension. The Denver Nugget star received a four-year $50 million deal from his team for his great work over the three previous seasons.
With Faried and Leonard’s similarity scores being so close, one has to question whether the emerging Spurs star is worth an extra year and $40 million.
Sure Kawhi Leonard has better accolades than Kenneth Faried, an all defensive-team selection to go along with his championship wear, but is that enough to justify the large difference?
Another player that also serves as a great point of comparison is Danny Granger. The former Indiana Pacer was also shown to be similar production wise to Leonard, receiving a 94.8% similarity rating.
If you are wondering what Danny Granger received extension wise we have answers. When it was time for Granger to re-up with his team, he received a five-year $65 million deal.
Perspective is important to keep in mind when looking at this deal.
That high dollar deal was back in 2008, before the changes that came in with the CBA, during a time when teams were spending a lot more than they probably should have for players.
While Danny Granger’s deal did end up working out that isn’t to say Kawhi Leonard’s deal will end up doing the same.
Although some may argue Leonard is worth the big bucks because of Klay Thompson’s recent four-year $70 million deal, a look at perspective shows that the Golden State Warriors paid a fair price.
Shooting is considered a premium in the league right now, and, until that changes, three-point specialists will continue to be overpaid, especially one with a skill set like Thompson which includes assets outside of shooting.
Kawhi Leoanrd deserves to get paid. He, however, is not worth the maximum, at least not yet.
Leonard has a great chance to prove naysayers wrong this season and show is worth the extra financial commitment. I for one, am rooting for Leonard to do so.
With that said, the San Antonio Spurs were smart for not extending Kawhi Leonard. There are just too many circumstances in the Spurs favor to give into Leonard’s demands for the max.
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We don’t know yet if NBA Finals Leonard is what we will be seeing on a regular basis or what will be happening to the big three.
The Spurs can match any offers to Leonard this offseason and would be wise to work this situation around that advantage.
Although San Antonio fans may be nervous about a lack of a deal, if there is anything we have learned about the Spurs, it is to not doubt their decisions.
What do you think about the Kawhi Leonard contract situation? Let us know in the comments!