With only hours until free agency began and questions of the future of LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, and Dirk Nowitzki swirling in the heads of NBA reporters and fans alike, San Antonio Spurs’ forward, Richard Jefferson, managed to steal the news cycle last night, on more than one occasion.
With the news breaking that Jefferson would be opting out of his contract, you could almost hear the corks popping off the champagne bottles across the River City.
However, later in the evening, just as the fuss over the first bit of breaking news was winding down, it was reported by Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter) who said Jefferson and the Spurs would probably ink a new deal and in all likelihood be remaining with the silver and black.
Put those corks back in Spurs fans. But only for a moment.
The buzz in the city and across the NBA insider circles last night was how could Jefferson be so stupid? His contract guaranteed him $15.2 million next year and, after a performance last year that would have left Darko Milicic underwhelmed, who in their right mind would come close to paying him that much money? Well it turns out Jefferson may not be as crazy as we thought.
Sources say the contract Jefferson would likely sign with the Spurs would be a longer term deal, at a annual salary that would bring the Spurs back under the luxury tax threshold. It might also guarantee him more than $15.2 million over the term of the contract.
It is a win-win for the Spurs and Jefferson. Both have more options now than they would have if Jefferson had not opted out. The Spurs can now decide if they even want to re-sign him and, if so, at what price. This also gives the Spurs the option of a sign-and-trade scenario should there be a living soul who wants Jefferson besides Pop.
For Jefferson, it gives him the ability to shop himself on the free-agent market, to see if there is any chance of him receiving a better deal or finding a team that may be a better fit for him. For example, today there was a report he would prefer to go to the New York Knicks or the New Jersey Nets not only for the long-term contract he is seeking but because he feels his style of play does not mesh well with the Spurs.
With the uncertainty surrounding the collective bargaining agreement that expires next year, it may be his only chance to ensure his future under the current rules of the road. Jefferson’s agent described the decision like this:
“It’s an opportunity for him to look at free agency under rules and guidelines that we know and a salary cap structure that we know,” Eley said. “You can play next year and then enter a market you may not be comfortable with, or know. I think this allows Richard a lot of options to pursue now that make sense for him.”
Make no mistake, this is a gamble for Jefferson. He is taking the chance the Spurs are not willing to re-sign him or, if they are, they offer him a much smaller contract but at a longer term. At the same time it is hard to imagine his market value is very high after one of the worst seasons of his career. With free agency fever sweeping the NBA though, it is not entirely surprising that Jefferson and his agent would take a chance.
While it is hard to argue that Jefferson provided much value to the team in his first season, this move is very good for the Spurs. Should they decide to re-sign him, it will be on their terms with the advantage of knowing exactly what he offers the team. He will be paid for his current performance instead of a bloated contract based on his past performance and he will be more tradable if he is signed at a lower dollar amount.
This summer just got even more interesting.