Restricted free agent Kawhi Leonard has agreed in principal to a five-year maximum contract with the San Antonio Spurs that should be worth more than $90 million, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports.
The Spurs could've inked Leonard, the No. 2 free agent on our list, to a maximum extension last summer after he won NBA Finals MVP, but instead chose to wait in order to maintain more flexibility this offseason. There was an understanding in place between the two parties, so Leonard was always expected to return.
Leonard is not expected to officially re-sign until the Spurs make a pitch to free agent LaMarcus Aldridge. Mike Prada explained the situation earlier in the week:
Yet there's an easy solution here assuming Leonard goes along with the plan. He is eligible to earn 25 percent of the cap on the first year of his maximum salary, which will be around $16.5 million. But that dollar figure doesn't go onto San Antonio's cap sheet until the deal is officially signed. Until then, Leonard's cap hold, which comes out to about $7.2 million, sits there. Seven million is a lot less than 16.5 million.
As long as Leonard helps out, the Spurs can wait to actually finalize his new deal until after they clear enough space for Aldridge. Leonard could sign an offer sheet elsewhere and torpedo the strategy -- and Spurs rivals with cap space absolutely should make offers to test Leonard's resolve -- but as long as he's confident the Spurs will take care of him, San Antonio will be OK.
Leonard became the third-youngest Finals MVP ever in 2014, and the expectation was that he'd take the next step in 2014-15. Injuries hindered that next step at the beginning of the year, but once Leonard got healthy, his two-way prowess was on full display for everybody to see.
Leonard put up nearly 18 points per game on 52 percent shooting after the All-Star break, and his tenacious defense earned him Defensive Player of the Year honors. Leonard rounding into form with the rest of the Spurs made them look like a top title contender. However, he struggled in the final few games of San Antonio's heartbreaking first-round series loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Leonard will continue to take on a bigger role as the Spurs' Hall of Famers continue to age and retire. There are still some questions about whether he can consistently be a big-time scorer, but he just turned 24 and still has time to blossom into that type of player. Even if he's never an elite scorer, his two-way impact can't be understated, and San Antonio is in good hands with Leonard moving forward no matter who else is added to the roster.