Illini alum Meyers Leonard has signed a 4-year, $41 million deal to stay with the Portland Trail Blazers. Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski (who else?) tweeted the deal.
Meyers Leonard has agreed to a 4-year, $41M deal to stay with Portland, league sources tell @TheVertical.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) July 10, 2016
Leonard will make just over $10 million a season, a sharp upturn from his rookie deal, which paid him just over $3 million for his efforts this past season. Leonard had received a $4.2 million qualifying offer to lock him into restricted free agency for the summer, and talks between him and other teams never seemed to gain any traction. Part of that could be that he's still rehabilitating a shoulder that required surgery late in the season and kept him out of the playoffs. Leonard still has a few months of recovery left to do, but Portland management obviously must be pleased with the way the shoulder is progressing to keep him in their future plans.
For his part, Leonard seems to love the fans and the vibe in Portland, and he's still developing his game there. Despite the late emergence of pass-first big man Mason Plumlee and recent signing of former Golden State Warrior Festus Ezeli, the Blazers obviously still find value in Leonard's potential and his shooting stroke. While Leonard was 1-for-12 from three in his two-year career at Illinois, he's evolved into a career 38.5% 3-point shooter in the pros. He gives the Blazers an element that neither Plumlee nor Ezeli (nor reserves Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh) provide — the ability to stretch the floor on offense while providing rim protection on defense. Leonard has had experience playing the four spot as well, meaning he can pair with those guys when the Blazers want someone bigger than Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless at power forward.
With his deal averaging a hair over $10 million a season, Leonard overtakes Deron Williams, who recently re-upped with the Dallas Mavericks, as the highest paid Illini in the pros. It's hard to imagine considering how elite Williams once was at the point guard position and how raw Leonard was when he entered the league. Leonard will have to prove himself to garner significant playing time in what has become an exceedingly deep big-man rotation in Portland, but he's at least shown enough to persuade general manager Neil Olshey to give him a pay-day. Now it's up to Illinois head coach John Groce to sweet talk Leonard, one of the best Illini of past 10 years, into paying some of that deal forward to the program he came up in. Just kidding. Unless he's going to do it.