When rumors broke Friday morning that the Los Angeles Lakers were at the top of the list of teams disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard wants to be traded to, the first rebuttal many offered was “why would Leonard want to miss out on getting the designated veteran extension, more commonly known as the supermax contract?”
According to Chris B. Haynes of ESPN, that’s not Leonard’s primary concern right now:
Kawhi Leonard isn't concerned about missing out on the supermax, sources tell ESPN. There's a feeling of betrayal that at this juncture, appears irreparable.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) June 15, 2018
So let’s roll it back a bit: What is the supermax, and why would Kawhi be concerned about missing out on it?
Only the Spurs can offer Kawhi the supermax, and there is a substantial difference between it and deals other teams could offer, as explained by Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report:
This summer, San Antonio can offer the two-time All-Star a designated veteran extension worth roughly $219 million over five years (starting with the 2019-20 season). He qualified with back-to-back All-NBA First Team honors the past two campaigns, despite his struggles to stay healthy this season.
That the Spurs are the only team that can offer Leonard a supermax deal may be motive enough for the forward. If traded, his max to re-sign with any other team drops to $183 million. Should he leave for a new franchise in free agency, the most he can earn will be almost $140 million over four years. All estimates are based on the NBA’s $108 million salary-cap projection for 2019-20.
So that’s nearly $40 million Leonard would be missing out on if he forced a trade to another team like the Lakers, but the latter number might be more explanatory of his motivation to be traded.
If Leonard has already decided he’s done in San Antonio, getting $183 million sounds a lot better than $140 million, the latter of which would be a nearly $80 million drop from the $219 million the Spurs can offer, although it’s in actuality probably a little less steep since the Spurs can offer an extra year other teams can’t, and if Leonard is still producing he can presumably make up a bit of that cash on his next deal.
However, before Lakers fans start celebrating in the streets just yet, it seems like a deal isn’t imminent, as Leonard and his camp may not have even informed the Spurs of his intentions to be dealt yet (although not doing so before going to the media would seem to send an even stronger message):
Sources: So far, Leonard has expressed nothing directly to Spurs about future. Lakers and Clippers interest Leonard -- and both teams would move quickly to assemble packages to acquire Leonard. Spurs won't rush. Leonard and his camp had shown interest in $219M super max deal.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 15, 2018
Key word: “Had.”
Also hearing the Spurs have not received this memo from Kawhi. A sign of the divide that his camp chose to take it to the social media streets first via the media... https://t.co/B9yYN6uAan— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) June 15, 2018
This is very much a developing situation, but if Leonard and his camp are indeed as done with the Spurs as all of these leaks make it appear they are, and if they’ve decided to cut their losses on seeking a supermax contract from San Antonio, then this summer just got a lot more interesting for the Lakers.
If the team can acquire Leonard, that would be a hell of a piece to have in hand while recruiting LeBron James and/or Paul George, and the next NBA superpower might very well be on its way to Los Angeles.
You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.