Spurs should wait on extending Leonard

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By AUBREY KRAGEN
College Contributor Network

If you hadn't heard of Kawhi Leonard before the 2014 NBA Finals, odds are you learned then. The third-year San Antonio Spurs forward shot 61 percent and averaged 17.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game during the series on his way to being named the second-youngest NBA Finals MVP ever.

Leonard was huge on both offense and defense -- typically guarding LeBron James -- but caught fans off-guard with his intensely quiet demeanor. Leonard almost never talked to the media, and when he did, it was in uncomfortable one-on-one situations like this, which produced one of my favorite interview moments of all time.

In a sense, he's the anti-Richard Sherman, and you can either love him for it or be completely bored with him for it.

Such is the nature of the San Antonio Spurs. Leonard, who didn't create an account on Twitter until a week after the NBA Finals ended (and has only tweeted 11 times since then), exemplifies the spirit of the team. Half of the organization doesn't chum it up with the media simply because English is their second language and the other half (including legendary head coach Gregg Popovich) simply doesn't want to.

That's the narrative that's surrounded the Spurs for over a decade: they're not flashy and they lack star power. Their Big Three (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili) didn't command nearly the media attention that Miami's Big Three did.

But San Antonio's Big Three has been doing something remarkable for years: accepting far less money than they deserve in order to keep playing together and keep the wheels of the organization turning. These three have sacrificed max contracts in order to make room for the Spurs to sign and re-sign players like Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw and Marco Belinelli.

So the recent news that Leonard was asking for a max contract, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski, surprised me. I'm not surprised that Leonard wants to tether himself to San Antonio, which he could do if he signed an extension by midnight on Oct. 31 (otherwise he'll become a restricted free agent at the end of the 2014-15 season), but it doesn't seem in his nature to be the guy holding out for a huge contract. He has always been soft-spoken and humble, and it's hard to imagine how the team dynamic would change if the Spurs maxed out their 23-year-old while continuing to underpay their Big Three.

Leonard has proven over the past three seasons that he is completely deserving of a max contract. But that's simply not the way the Spurs do things, and to have success there, players have to buy into the system -- which it appears Leonard hasn't just yet. There's a lot of public support to max out Leonard, but though I've been a fan of his since his freshman year at SDSU, I can't get past seeing the holdout as selfish.

An eye infection kept him out of the Spurs' season opener, and I can't wait for him to come back. But with the deadline quickly approaching, it doesn't look like he'll be coming back with a new and improved contract. That's okay though -- nothing can replace a ring, right?


Aubrey Kragen is a senior at USC majoring in Communication. She was born in San Diego and is a fan of the Chargers, the Padres and the Spurs (because she needs at least one good team to root for). Follow her on Twitter: @aubreykragen
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