San Antonio Spurs: James Harden’s Contract Could Impact Kawhi Leonard

By Rob Wolkenbrod
MEMPHIS, TN - APRIL 22: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs pumps his fist after making a three point shot against the Memphis Grizzlies in game four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on April 22, 2017 in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TN - APRIL 22: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs pumps his fist after making a three point shot against the Memphis Grizzlies in game four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2017 NBA Playoffs at FedExForum on April 22, 2017 in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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The San Antonio Spurs will potentially have to pay up for Kawhi Leonard’s next contract, as James Harden’s deal changes the game.

The San Antonio Spurs gave Kawhi Leonard a five-year, $94 million extension in 2015, which looked like a standard, maximum contract at the time. With the NBA’s salary cap increasing by the year, deals like that are nearly becoming the standard for the average player. So the $18.8 million Leonard will make in the 2017-18 season almost looks like a steal.

Then came the contract for Stephen Curry, which gave him five years, $201 million. That pushed the boundaries further than ever, but as it turns out, it was only a record for about one week.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Houston Rockets gave James Harden a contract extension worth $228 million through the 2022-23 season. It comes almost one year to the day that Harden agreed to an extension with the Rockets.

Houston has made extension official: Sources tell ESPN it will be worth $228M through the 2022-23 season. https://t.co/UZhYSo9ZHn

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 8, 2017

Harden’s annual salary will soar for the next four seasons, which will range between $37.8 and $46.8 million. This is according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.

A James Harden four-year extension would start in 2019-20 at a salary of $37.8M, $40.8M, $43.8M and $46.8M. https://t.co/zq5eLKrube

— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) July 8, 2017

This contract is a record for now, but should it become the standard deal for star players, then look for the Spurs to be forced to pony up a salary higher than they paid any of their top stars, like David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and Tony Parker.

Leonard’s deal is up after the 2019-20 season. However, that final year is a player option, which can almost be expected to get declined, if the Spurs don’t extend him beforehand. To avoid this problem, they could open the door for an extension this summer or, more likely, in 2018, so the team can work with a reasonable amount of available cap space.

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Is Leonard guaranteed to get a deal like Harden’s? Not quite. At this point, players not taking the full amount of money they could receive from the Spurs, has become the norm. Tim Duncan did this throughout the final five years of his deal, so the franchise can keep cap space to acquire others. Manu Ginobili did the same. Pau Gasol will be the next to do this, as he’ll opt out of $16 million for 2017-18.

So, the track record is there. However, the difference comes with Leonard at age 27 (by the 2018 offseason) and in the prime of his career. Factor in his potential as a perennial NBA MVP candidate, and it makes the chances of a high-salary deal possible or likely.

If Leonard gets a deal like that of Harden’s they may have to prepare to pay the luxury tax, something they mostly haven’t needed to do. If the franchise can’t afford this, then the roster could look different with a bit of roster reconstruction.

Of course, there’s the possibility of Leonard and San Antonio not reaching a deal beforehand, him declining his player option and becoming a free agent. That’s the worst case scenario, aside from him potentially leaving in 2019 free agency.

Next: 5 Free Agent Targets After Rudy Gay

The Spurs could give Leonard a $200 million-plus deal like Harden and have cap problems in two years, or if he’s willing to do something less. The NBA’s landscape changes everyday, as well, so this might look different in 2019, or even 2019.

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