Spurs pick up options on Leonard and Joseph

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The San Antonio Spurs announced on Monday that the team exercised its fourth year team options on both Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph. This is not a surprise. Both players are on cheap rookie deals. Leonard is far outperforming his contact through the first two years of his career. The jury is still out on CoJo, but he looks promising in limited time with San Antonio.

Now it gets interesting, and that interest comes on two fronts. First, how much is Kawhi going to get paid when the team extends his contract next offseason? Will Leonard get the max? Right now, the only player on the books for the 2015-16 season is Tiago Splitter. Leonard would surely command max money on the open market if he became a free agent, but the Spurs won’t let Leonard get close to free agency and the team has a knack for getting its star players to accept less money in the name of roster flexibility.

Duncan took less than the max in 2007 when he extended his contract through the 2011-12 seasonTony Parker re-signed for less money than he was/is worth in 2010 when he agreed to an extension, and Manu Ginobili has agreed to a couple of contracts with San Antonio at below-market value (current deal notwithstanding). It’s not a stretch to think Leonard would be willing to accept less money on his next deal after the examples set by his elders.

On the flip side, we have no idea what San Antonio’s roster — and title chances for that matter — will look like in two years. It might be wise to pay Leonard as much as they can while cap flexibility isn’t a pressing issue and then renegotiate his contract down the line.

Area number two that I’m thinking about is what San Antonio’s plans are for Joseph. We know the team will extend Leonard, but this is a bit of a make or break year for Joseph in the silver and black. CoJo should be firmly entrenched as the team’s backup point guard going into this season, no more shuttling back-and-forth to Austin in his third year.

Joseph is under contract for a fourth year in 2014-15, but the team will have to decide whether or not to extend CoJo’s contract past his rookie deal by October 31, 2014, essentially before that fourth season begins. If they don’t, they can extend a qualifying offer to Joseph in the summer of 2015 and he’ll become a restricted free agent. Then San Antonio will have the option to match an offer sheet Joseph signs with another team, but they lose some control in the process.

It’s widely believed around the league that rookie scale contracts and elite players on max contracts are the most valuable deals available. Where teams run into trouble is overpaying for role players. At this point in his career that’s what Joseph’s ceiling looks like. Considering the Spurs drafted CoJo 29th in what most believe to be an extremely weak draft, that’s not a knock on Joseph. Guys picked that late are fortunate to continue playing the the league past their rookie deal. But it’s something the Spurs have to factor in when they make an offer to Joseph.

The Spurs have shown in the past that they’d like to avoid committing too much of their cap to the middle class NBA players. They traded Gregg Popovich’s favorite player before the final year of his rookie deal, for God’s sake. San Antonio dealing Joseph before the team is forced to give him a raise is always a possibility.

Either way, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This was a no-brainer move by the Spurs front office and at least gives us something else to think about during the season ahead outside of whether or not this will be the year the wheels fall off.