Kawhi Leonard wants a max contract, but the San Antonio Spurs are "unlikely" to hand him one via extension before the Friday deadline hits, reports ESPN's Chris Broussard. Days after Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Leonard and the Spurs weren't gaining traction in talks, the latest report indicates that the two sides will go into the 2014-15 season expecting to return to the topic next summer, when the reigning Finals MVP becomes a restricted free agent.
That's not necessarily bad news for San Antonio. There are reasons for the Spurs to revisit Leonard's contract after the season if Broussard's report holds true through the Oct. 31 deadline. First, why should they try to get a deal done now?
Why should the Spurs extend Leonard now?
There's nothing wrong with tying the team to its NBA Finals MVP. Leonard's averages of 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game don't give enough context to how crucial he is to San Antonio's success. Maybe his three straight 20-point games and stellar defense against LeBron James in the Spurs' NBA Finals run makes his importance more obvious.
Extending Leonard to a max contract now isn't a poor financial plan with an expected salary cap rise thanks to the new television deal. Additionally, San Antonio has quite a few question marks with the futures of Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan up in the air after this season. To hang on to their culture and keep continuity, locking up Leonard is a smart thing to do. It certainly would make next offseason a lot less stressful.
If it comes to his restricted free agency, the Spurs can match any offer sheet Leonard signs elsewhere. But taking that route would distract the Spurs in their other free agency moves needed to fill in a roster that has only four players returning on guaranteed contacts next year.
Why shouldn't the Spurs extend Leonard now?
The Spurs do gain a financial advantage by holding off on signing Leonard.
If they extend his contract from his rookie deal, Leonard will start off making the max of around $16 million annually, and that amount would go against the salary cap next summer. As a restricted free agent, Leonard's cap hold of only $7.2 million would count against the team cap during free agency, giving the Spurs an extra bit of extra cap space compared to what they'd have if they extended their MVP. Holding out would allow San Antonio to fill in its roster next summer before signing Leonard, whose Bird Rights would allow the team to go over the salary cap.
There's also relatively little risk for San Antonio in letting Leonard reach restricted free agency because of the expectation that the Spurs will match any max offer. It gives them leverage. Teams will be scared to throw offer sheets at Leonard, and if they do, those teams will be at the Spurs' mercy, unable to do much else in free agency for the allotted three days in which San Antonio can match. Should the Spurs have to match an offer, they would actually save money by accepting terms of an offer sheet that is signed without the added financial benefits of Leonard's Bird Rights.
In the end, San Antonio may be willing to offer Leonard a new contract that no other team can even match. The Spurs just don't want to extend that now. Best to let another team set the market price, if it's not the max.
What's the likelihood Leonard signs now?
Based on the two most recent reports, I'd give it a 3-out-of-10 chance that the Spurs and Leonard make any headway with the extension deadline a few days away. There are enough reasons and relatively few risks for San Antonio to wait and offer Leonard next summer. The Spurs are probably comfortable paying him the max -- now or later doesn't matter so much.