With a few exceptions, of course, the NBA offseason traditionally has been a ho-hum, business-as-usual period for the Spurs and their legion of fans throughout the world.
While other teams wheel and deal as they tweak their rosters, the Silver and Black usually stand pat and focus on evaluating their draft picks and younger players in summer-league ball.
But not this year.
The Spurs’ front office has been busy since the Golden State Warriors eliminated the Silver and Black in the first round of the playoffs in late April. General manager R.C. Buford and his staff have had plenty on their plate, to say the least.
Even with all the LeBron-to-San Antonio rumors swirling on social media and media outlets throughout the country reporting on the speculation, the Spurs’ No. 1 priority this season is to have a sit-down with All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard. Before moving forward, they’ll have to smooth out of the edges of a relationship that’s a bit frayed after one of the most frustrating Spurs seasons in recent memory.
Leonard was limited to only nine games by a mysterious quad injury last season, his seventh with the Spurs, the only team he’s played with during his NBA career.
Leonard, who turns 27 on June 29, is eligible for a five-year, $219 million supermax contract extension with the Silver and Black after July 1. He signed a five-year deal in 2015 worth more than $90 million. The contract runs through the 2019-20 season, but Leonard could opt out of the deal after the 2018-19 season and become a free agent.
Rumors have persisted for months that Leonard could wind up on the trading block if he turns down the Spurs’ offer. The Boston Celtics made a trade offer to San Antonio before the February deadline, but the Spurs turned it down, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported in a story published Wednesday morning. For now, at least, they aren’t entertaining any offers.
Before the Spurs invest so heavily in Leonard, they’re going to want to evaluate how close he is to a full recovery from his injury and get a comprehensive reading on how committed he is to continuing his career in San Antonio. While hardly a profound observation, all this is worth noting because it’s part of the calculus in negotiations for these big-money contract extensions.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who missed the team’s last three playoff games after his wife died, is expected to meet with Leonard soon. Maybe sometime this week, They’ll likely meet several times before the NBA draft on June 21. We’ll know about Leonard’s future by then.
Spurs fans hoping to see Leonard stay – and there are some who soured on No. 2 during his prolonged absence – can take comfort in knowing that Popovich always has maintained a strong relationship with Leonard.
Leonard was diagnosed with tendinopathy in his right quadriceps in the preseason and missed the first 27 games of the 2017-18 season. He made his season debut Dec. 12, but played for only a month before the pain in his right leg forced him off the court. He spent the remainder of the season rehabbing the injury.
A rift between Leonard’s representatives and the Spurs’ front office over the handling of his injury developed during his long absence. The injury initially was described as a “quad contusion” by the Spurs, but Leonard sought a second opinion in New York and started rehabbing with his own doctors there since March.
In addition to addressing Leonard’s contract extension and making a push to meet with LeBron James after the free agency period begins July 1, the Spurs have three other veterans on their roster who could wind up leaving the team this summer.
Danny Green and Rudy Gay have player options on the last year of their contracts, and could opt out to become free agents, and veteran point guard Tony Parker is an unrestricted free agent. Parker, who was replaced by Dejounte Murray in the starting lineup, almost certainly will have to take a sizable pay cut if he stays with San Antonio.
Leonard averaged 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.0 blocks in the nine games he played last season. He has averaged 16.3 points and 6.2 rebounds during his NBA career.
A two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Leonard was named MVP of the 2014 Finals after helping lead the Silver and Black to their fifth league championship.
The Spurs struggled without Leonard last season, finishing 47-35 and making the playoffs as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. Down 3-0 against the Warriors in the first round, the Silver and Black won Game 4 at home to extend the series, but they lost Game 5 and the series on the road.