The chance for the San Antonio Spurs to extend Kawhi Leonard before he has the chance to become a restricted free-agent has come and gone. And in the end, that could prove a boon for the NBA defending champion’s long-term prospects.

That the Spurs didn’t extend Leonard by the Oct. 31 deadline appears to have lit a fire under the 23-year-old rising star. And the Spurs could clearly be a better team as a result of that.

Leonard was at his best Monday night during San Antonio’s 89-85 road win over the Clippers. He finished the night with a career-high 28 points and made a key steal late against Chris Paul to seal his team’s win.

“We ran more plays for him tonight than I ever have in his career,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told USA Today Sports. “That’s the plan. We’ve got to start giving him the ball. You know, he’s the future.”

If the Spurs ever doubted that, Leonard is quickly erasing those fears. “I was never upset about the extension,” he said. “I mean they explained to me what their deal is and why they didn’t do it yet. That’ll play out. I’m just here to play basketball and have fun and try to win another championship. If I think about that, then I’m not going to be the same player that I am and will be just out of it.”

Besides, Leonard doesn’t truly seem to think he’s going anywhere— or at least he doesn’t seem to want to be.

“I don’t think I’m going anywhere,” he said. “I mean they love me here. I like the organization, and if it was up to me, I want to finish out with one team like a lot of great players have done, to stay with one organization their whole career and just be loyal to that. You never know. We’ll see what happens next summer, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be in a Spurs jersey for my whole life.”

[Photo Credit: Matt Britt]