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NBA PM: What is Kawhi Leonard Worth?

A look at how much NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard can net in contract negotiations with the Spurs this summer.

Yannis Koutroupis

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How Much is Kawhi Leonard worth?

As the San Antonio Spurs get set to celebrate their 2013-14 NBA championship on Wednesday with a parade and celebration at the AT&T Center, there are already members of the front office thinking about how they can hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy again next season. Back-to-back championships have eluded them throughout their historic run since 1999 that features 15 consecutive 50-win seasons and now five championships.

With the way that keeping last year’s team intact paid off this season with revenge over the Miami HEAT, it’s clear that the Spurs are going to go into 2014-15 with a very familiar look and feel. The only thing that could drastically change this is if Tim Duncan decides to decline his player option for $10.3 million next season and retire. However, given his health, ability to still contribute at a high level and the entire Spurs organization and city of San Antonio yearning for him to return, it’s hard to see how he walks away. Manu Ginobili is also expected to return.

The Spurs have three pending free agents of note: Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner and Patty Mills. Making the assumption that Duncan comes back and Tony Parker’s partially guaranteed contract gets paid in full at $12.5 million, the Spurs are going to have an inclusive salary just under $55 million. The NBA salary cap is expected to rise to $63.2 million with a luxury tax threshold of $77 million. That gives the Spurs $8 million to spend in free agency to bring in someone new if they desire and another $14 million to bring back their three free agents, whose Bird rights they possess. They’re not going to have any trouble keeping the band together, in other words.

The most interesting part of their summer could be their contract negotiations with NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. Leonard, the 15th overall pick in the 2011 draft, is eligible for a contract extension on July 1 and the Spurs will have until October 31 to come to an agreement with him. If not, they’ll have to issue a $4 million qualifying offer and let the market dictate his price in restricted free agency. That’s not the preferred route for either party, though.

Leonard has exploded into one of the premiere small forwards in the game. He’s a truly unique player because of his ability to guard four different positions and make a major impact on a game without having a single play called for him offensively. He’s as low maintenance as they come and is the most prototypical Spur to come along since Duncan.

Gregg Popovich has long labeled him the team’s next star. However, it took a bit before Leonard sold the rest of the team on that idea as well. When R.C. Buford acquired Leonard, it cost the Spurs George Hill, who was beloved by the Spurs coaches and players alike. This meant that Leonard entered San Antonio with big shoes to fill.

“He’s been unbelievable,” Duncan said. “He came in here after a lockout season, worked hard with us during that summer, and I can’t say that I saw the player that I saw tonight at that point.  What R.C. and Pop saw in him for him to become the player he is today, it’s amazing because that summer I was like, ‘Hey, we gave up someone, it was George Hill who had been playing really solid for us.’  Obviously, you get attached to people and disappointed in that. He comes in here and don’t know a thing about him.  He works hard and continues to improve year after year.  You see him play the first two games and everybody’s talking to him.  Everybody’s saying to him:  Just stick with it, just play hard, do the little things, whatever, whatever, whatever.

“And he shows up in the last three games and just plays out of his mind.  He’s not worried about just doing the little things.  He wants to do it all, and he plays with a confidence that is just amazing.  I’m honored to be on this team right now because he’s going to be great for years to come, and I’m going to hold on as long as I can.”

Leonard’s stardom has now peaked, but after two games he was on the verge of becoming one of the scapegoats if the Spurs came up short against the HEAT again. After averaging 14 points and 11 rebounds in the Finals last year, Leonard’s impact was minimal through the first two games. But, a talk from Coach Popovich led to his eruption over the next three games.

“I just talked to him about not being in that deferment or that defer sort of stage,” Popovich said. “The hell with Tony, the hell with Timmy, the hell with Manu, you play the game.  You are the man.  You’re part of the engine that makes us go. And it starts with his defense and his rebounding, and he’s starting to feel his oats offensively, obviously, because I have not called a play for him the whole playoff.  I do not call his number.  Everything he did was just out of the motion and out of offense, and he’s learned it well.

“In the future, obviously, we’ll use him a lot more on an individual basis.  But it’s not really our style, and he appreciates that.”

In order to assure the Leonard is a Spur in the future, the organization can offer him a five-year contract in the neighborhood of $78.8 million. That averages out to $15.7 million a year, but it would start at just over $13 million with annual 15 percent increases. It wouldn’t kick in until the 2015-16 season when the Spurs have Duncan and Ginobili’s contracts coming off of the books to help offset the increase and avoid the luxury tax, but traditionally the Spurs have stayed away from max contracts.

Taking a look at their history, Duncan is the only player to receive the max from them. Hall of Fame center David Robinson played 14 years in San Antonio and never made more than $14.8 million in a single season. In fact, there were just five years in his career where he made over $10 million.

The Spurs will likely point to the similar meteoric rises that Parker and Ginobili underwent and how they were compensated when negotiating with Leonard because as good as he has become, he’s closer to their level than Duncan, who is the greatest power forward to ever play the game.

Ginobili’s biggest contract extension in terms of annual salary was a three-year, $39 million deal; Parker’s was four years, $50 million, with the final year only being guaranteed for $3.5 million. They easily could have gotten more had they hit the open market, but they were willing to sacrifice financially in order to stay in San Antonio and compete for a championship.

Considering how comfortable he looks in San Antonio and the fact that he’s been in the Finals twice already in his three-year career, Leonard will likely be willing to make the same sacrifice. He could hold out and potentially get a near max deal on the open market next season, especially if he builds off of his Finals MVP performance and takes another step forward, which is not out of the question as he’s only 22 years old. Leonard isn’t money motivated, though. He’s motivated by winning and no franchise has done that more over the last 15 years than the Spurs. He may lose out on a little bit of money to stay a part of it, but they’re not going to low ball him or try to strong arm him in negotiations. They’re going to take care of him and likely offer him something in the $12-13 million per year range. And, if he continues to develop and show that he’s worth of the kind of money they gave Duncan, whose career salary exceeds $200 million, they’ll be more than happy to write that check as well the next time negotiations roll around.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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