June 22, 2018 / 4:55 PM / 5 months ago

Buford: Spurs will 'explore' options, but hope to keep Leonard

General manager RC Buford said the Spurs will “explore all of our options,” but ultimately hope to mend fences with Kawhi Leonard and keep the soon-to-be-27-year-old All-Star in San Antonio.

Apr 22, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies guard Vince Carter (15) shoots as San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) defends in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports / Reuters Picture Supplied by Action Images

“Kawhi and his family mean a lot to our organization and to the community,” Buford said after the 2018 NBA Draft came and went on Thursday night without a Leonard trade, per ESPN. “While none of us would wish we are where we are, we’re going to do what we can to build the best relationship we can with him, and we’ll explore all of our options. But the first one would be to do what we can to keep Kawhi as a part of our group.”

Buford also pointed out that the Spurs still have time to find a long-term resolution.

“I don’t know that timing’s a factor in this. ... He’s under contract for another year. Our goal is to keep him as a part of our program for a long time.”

Amid the lingering Leonard drama, the Spurs also turned their attention to the draft, selecting shooting guard Lonnie Walker IV at No. 18 overall and power forward Chimezie Metu out of Southern Cal in the second.

Walker, who averaged 11.5 points in his lone year with the Miami Hurricanes, is the highest draft pick for San Antonio since the team took Tim Duncan No. 1 overall in 1997.

Leonard has two seasons — one a player option — remaining on the five-year, $90 million extension he signed with San Antonio in the summer of 2015. The two-time first-team All-NBA guard is eligible to sign a five-year, $219 million supermax extension after July 1.

Leonard played in just nine games last season due to a quad injury, averaging 16.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists. He was shut down indefinitely after scoring nine points in 28 minutes against the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 13 and never returned despite being cleared to play by Spurs doctors.

Leonard felt he wasn’t physically ready to play despite medical clearance. The two-time All-Star primarily worked out at the NBA Players Association headquarters in midtown Manhattan, with the Spurs sending staffers to observe and assist as needed.

Leonard has been the subject of trade speculation for months after last season produced extensive tension between him and the team over the handling of his quadriceps tendinopathy. He is still rehabbing his quad injury but is “96, 97 percent” healthy and expects to be ready for training camp in September.

Various reports over the last few months indicated the sides disagreed about the nature of Leonard’s injury, how to treat it and how soon he would be able to return to the floor. An ESPN report in May said the Spurs were worried Leonard’s group — led by uncle Dennis Robertson and agent Mitch Frankel — intentionally sought to sabotage the team’s relationship with Leonard in hopes of getting him traded to a larger market.

The supermax extension would make Leonard the league’s highest-paid player, passing Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who signed a five-year, $201 million maximum deal last June.

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James is also eligible for a five-year supermax deal this offseason if he opts out of the final year of his contract, but it is unclear whether he will opt in, opt out and re-sign with the Cavs, or opt out and sign elsewhere as a free agent.

Leonard, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, has played all seven of his NBA seasons with the Spurs since they acquired him on his draft night, after the Indiana Pacers took him 15th overall in 2011.

—Field Level Media

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