Ronald Cortes/Getty Images
Before Kawhi Leonard likely becomes a free agent next summer, he’ll be a free agent on the shoe market.
According to Nick DePaula of ESPN.com, Jordan Brand will let Leonard “walk when his contract expires later this year.” He added, “Extension talks between Leonard and the Nike subsidiary stalled earlier this year after Leonard turned down a four-year, $22 million extension.”
Leonard, 27, won’t be the only high-profile sneaker free agent this year. Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, Minnesota Timberwolves small forward Andrew Wiggins, Boston Celtics wing Gordon Hayward, Golden State Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins, Denver Nuggets guard Isaiah Thomas and Washington Wizards wing Kelly Oubre Jr. will also seek deals.
While Embiid is probably a bigger name from a marketing standpoint, given his humorous social media presence, Leonard is the biggest on-court star of that bunch. He is a two-time All-Star, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, three-time All-Defensive first-team selection and was the 2014 NBA Finals MVP.
Leonard’s marketability, however, is another question. He’s notoriously a quiet, low-profile star who forced a move away from of one of the NBA’s most respected franchises this offseason, the San Antonio Spurs, ending up with the Toronto Raptors.
Without question, shoe companies will want his services. But it’s hard to imagine he’d get a signature shoe deal in the same stratosphere as the $200 million deal James Harden signed with Adidas in 2015, for instance.
Air Jordan’s offer, which would have paid him $5.5 million a year, was nothing to sneeze at. As Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes.com reported in June 2017, only 10 current or former players had shoe deals worth more yearly, with basketball icons Michael Jordan ($110 million), LeBron James ($32 million), Kevin Durant ($25 million) and Kobe Bryant ($16 million) topping the list.
Leonard’s deal would have put him on par with Paul George, who made $5.5 million with Nike the previous year.
Perhaps another company will come in with a huge offer. But Leonard might be banking on an agreement equivalent to the lucrative deals that the league’s most marketable superstars land—though at a time when he might be at his least marketable.