OAKLAND, Calif. — An all-hands-on-deck summer meeting with star forward Kawhi Leonard sits high on the priority list for the San Antonio Spurs, according to sources, as the team enters a pivotal offseason in the wake of Tuesday’s 99-91 season-ending loss to the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the Western Conference playoffs.
“Kawhi, everybody asks questions, but he’s still here,” guard Danny Green said. “He’s still locked in. He’s a part of the team until things change.”
With head coach Gregg Popovich expected to take the lead, the Spurs plan to meet with Leonard over the summer to gauge whether the sides can work out their differences and continue what has been largely a positive and productive partnership, sources said.
Leonard was sidelined for all but nine games this season because of a quadriceps issue that has led to an icy relationship with the team’s front office over his diagnosis and the rehabilitation process. He continues to rehab in New York.
While the decision regarding whether to offer Leonard a $219 million super-max extension rests with management — and even the current players, according to a source — ownership ultimately makes the final call. Convincing the team’s former chairman and CEO, Peter Holt, and his wife, Julianna Hawn Holt, could prove to be a difficult sell for general manager R.C. Buford. The couple is currently embroiled in divorce proceedings.
Popovich, Buford and Leonard’s Spurs teammates have long maintained the squad wants the star forward back in the fold, but they’ve also all said his long-term health is most important.
Popovich demonstrated proficiency last summer in mending strained relationships when he sat down with power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who was unhappy over his role and unsure of how he would fit in the team’s plans heading into the 2017-18 season. The two emerged from that sitdown with Aldridge feeling more comfortable, which in turn helped the power forward perform at an All-Star level in the absence of the injured Leonard.
The Leonard situation is just one of many San Antonio plans to navigate in the coming weeks.
“You never know what happens, right, during the summer. What moves can happen,” veteran Pau Gasol said. “On our team, from my understanding, there are six or seven guys who are restricted free agents or [have] player options, and then we have the situation that we all know of [Leonard] that we don’t know how that’s going to resolve, to be honest. From that standpoint, we’ll see. Right now is not a time to really think about it or make any decisions. It’s just a time to digest what’s happened this year, and we’ll have plenty of time to discuss next season and what can happen.”
Popovich missed his third consecutive game Monday while grieving the death of his wife, Erin, who died last week after a prolonged illness. The latest turn of events leads to questions about whether Popovich would like to continue coaching the Spurs. With 22 years at the helm, Popovich, 69, is currently the longest-tenured head coach in any of the major professional sports leagues. He’s also set to take over as coach of the U.S. Olympic team before the 2020 games in Tokyo.
Ginobili, a 16-year veteran, remains under contract next season for $2.5 million, but over the previous three summers, he has preferred to take a wait-and-see approach before deciding in July about whether to return to the Spurs. Ginobili said he hasn’t yet made a decision about his future and will use the summer to ponder his next move.
“As I’ve done it the last two or three seasons, I’ll sit back, relax and, after two or three months, see if I feel retired or not,” Ginobili said. “I like to let it season a little bit, to see how I feel. Don’t expect news until July, probably. I just don’t know. I let a month, two months go by and see how I feel. I’m not the type of guy who makes decisions on the fly, and when you are upset, hurt or whatever.”
Parker, meanwhile, has made his intentions clear, saying he’d like to play 20 NBA seasons. But in Year 17, Parker’s potential return for 2018-19 hasn’t been determined as he becomes a free agent on July 1, when his contract expires.
Buford told ESPN.com the Spurs will make a decision on Parker at the appropriate time, and it’s likely he will have to accept a contract worth significantly less than the $15.4 million he earned this season.
San Antonio’s longest-tenured player, Parker, 35, suffered a torn quadriceps tendon last season in the playoffs. Since January, he has taken on a reduced role coming off the bench, with 21-year-old Dejounte Murray becoming the team’s starter at the position.
“We’ll see,” Parker said. “I said already I want to keep playing. I’m happy I don’t have those retirement parties. I want to keep playing, and we’ll see if it’s in San Antonio. Everybody knows I would love to stay here. But free agency is always crazy, so we’ll see.”
The Spurs will also be somewhat in limbo over the summer regarding the return of starting shooting guard Danny Green and forward Rudy Gay, as both have player-options on their current contracts. Gay ($8.8 million) and Green ($10 million) have a June 29 deadline to opt into their contracts, but neither of them has yet to make a decision.
There’s a lot of decisions going on this summer. It’s so sudden,” Green said. “We just had a game. Everybody’s still pretty caught up in that, the moment of the season being over. We’re not really planning the summer just yet. I’m sure we get a couple days, a couple weeks, even a month or so and some guys still won’t have a decision yet. I’m sure they’ll get advice from their agents, talk to the coaching staff, talk to the organization and figure out where they will go from there. This organization is a big part of me, and I would love to play here again, would love to come back. But things get interesting in free agency.”
Reserve Joffrey Lauvergne also faces a June 29 deadline to make a decision on his $1.7 million player option.
Top assistant Ettore Messina filled in for Popovich for three games of the series against the Warriors, but he’ll be interviewing soon for the Charlotte Hornets‘ head coaching job.
After Tuesday’s game, Messina apologized and said he didn’t feel comfortable talking about his future with the Spurs. He said if he ever gets an opportunity to become a head coach, however, “the very first thing I’ll do, I’ll ask, I’ll talk to Coach Pop and R.C. [Buford], and see from that.”
“I love them to death, like my brothers,” Murray said. “Whether they’re here or not, I have no control over that. I wish the best for everybody.”