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NBA AM: Leonard, Thompson Extensions On Hold?

Two of the most talented players eligible for contract extensions are still playing the waiting game as deadline looms.

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Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson surprisingly still playing waiting game on contract extensions

The October 31 deadline to reach agreements on rookie scale contract extensions is rapidly approaching. To date, just six eligible players have reached early deals with the vast majority of guys still playing the waiting game.

For middle-tier guys, it is widely expected their current teams will opt to let the deadline pass, issue a qualifying offer at the end of the season and then allow the market to set the value for the player in restricted free agency.

On the other hand, teams often lock up top players among eligible candidates rather than taking any risks on the open market.

For that reason it is a bit surprising two of the most talented players eligible for an extension, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Golden State’s Klay Thompson, are still waiting to autograph new deals as we near the deadline.

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

Sources close to Thompson have maintained the talented shooting guard is pursuing a max-level deal. The Warriors, up until this point, haven’t been willing buyers at that price point. Thompson’s star continues to rise. The guard secured a gold medal with Team USA during the 2014 FIBA World Cup this past summer in Spain. Thompson is also coming off a season in which he averaged a career high 18.4 points while connecting on 223 three-points on 42 percent accuracy. Simply put, Thompson is likely on the verge of becoming an All-Star caliber performer but the Warriors are being patient as they are faced with paying the guard as a franchise player. For now, the financial gap between both parties seems to be significant and a deal may not get done unless one side blinks. For more on this situation, check out Nate Duncan’s breakdown.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Solely looking at the box sheet, the prospect of giving Leonard a max-level extension wouldn’t be ideal. Career averages of 10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 steals on 51 percent shooting, on the surface, don’t seem to justify an elite level contract. However, you must look deeper than the stat sheet. As future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili near retirement, Leonard represents the future of the Spurs franchise, especially considering Leonard became the third youngest NBA Finals MVP in league history by averaging 17.8 points, 6,4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks per game – without any plays called for him. There’s no doubt teams would line up next summer and offer Leonard lucrative deals in droves, but the Spurs ultimately will have the leverage. For now, things are in a holding pattern. For more on this situation, check out Nate Duncan’s breakdown.

Charlotte Hornets extend point guard Kemba Walker

Speaking of deadline extensions, according to an ESPN report, the Charlotte Hornets have reached an agreement with emerging guard Kemba Walker on a new deal.

According to the report, Walker agreed to a four-year, $48 million extension that goes into effect during the 2015-16 season.

Locking up Walker long term serves as a strong indication the team is continuing to head in the right direction after years spent toiling in the league’s basement. Last season, the franchise reached the playoffs due in large part to the arrival of center Al Jefferson and head coach Steve Clifford. This past summer, the Hornets signed swingman Lance Stephenson to a lucrative three-year, $27 million deal.

The expectation is Jefferson, Stephenson and Walker will serve as the team’s big three as the franchise looks to ride the current momentum and energy surrounding the club.

Walker has career averages of 16 points, 5.5 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 221 contests – all with Charlotte. Last season, the former University of Connecticut standout averaged a career high 6.1 assists while lowering his turnovers per game compared to the prior campaign.

Dwight Howard maintains Kobe Bryant wasn’t the sole reason he bolted Los Angeles in free agency

The Los Angeles Lakers are in unfamiliar territory as a franchise.  The team’s 27 victories last season was their second worst record, percentage wise, in franchise history. If the team misses the playoffs this season, like most are predicting, it would be the first time since the mid 1970s that the Lakers miss out on the postseason activities in consecutive years.

One of the primary reasons the Lakers are currently slumping in the standings, aside from injuries to Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, is the departure of All-Star center Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets.

Numerous reports have surfaced recently placing the blame on the shoulders of Bryant, a man so unwilling to share the spotlight. Howard maintains Bryant wasn’t the reason.

“I didn’t leave LA because I was afraid of Kobe Bryant,” Howard said, according to this report. “I went to a good situation for myself. I can’t change people’s opinions, but I did what I had to do for myself.”

“People have different reasons for why they go play for different teams,” Howard said. “It’s over with now. There’s no need to continue to talk about it. It happened. We played together for a year. The whole team was injured, didn’t really get an opportunity to do what we all set out to do. Things happen. Life happens. I think everybody needs to move forward from the situation and worry about their respective teams.”

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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