Before RC Buford made the trade to acquire Richard Jefferson, Jefferson was already showing signs of decline. You don’t usually get an Olympian and a 20 point a game scorer in the NBA who’s under 30 for spare parts and that’s exactly what the Spurs got him for.
It’s no secret, Jefferson pulled a vanishing act. After a strong start to the NBA season, he slowly became a non-presence for San Antonio towards the end of the regular season and completely disappeared in the post season
The phrase ” You get what you paid for” doesn’t apply to any situation more aptly. What the San Antonio Spurs got was a slasher who lost a step, deteriorating physical skills, and vanished in the playoffs.
The league average PER is 15.00. Jefferson posted a PER of 12.42 this season. According to this basketball metric Jefferson is a well below average NBA player. I believe if it wasn’t for the Spurs offensive weapons getting open looks for him and helping him land in the top 5 of 3 point shooters in the league, he would be even more of a ineffective player. I don’t think he is a starting small forward in the NBA at this point. And start he didn’t in the second half of Game 6 against Memphis.
After playing well in Game 1 of the Memphis series, Jefferson probably had his worst stretch of games in a Spurs uniform. Scoring 0 points twice and scoring no higher then 6 points the rest of the way. He played tentatively and chose to remain an after thought in the offense despite almost everyone on the team struggling on some level. His play devolved to such a level that when looking at the situation at halftime of game 6, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich felt the best chance he had to win was to start his backup shooting guard instead of Jefferson.
When you go out and get a guy of Jefferson’s perceived caliber you expect him to carry your team during crucial stretches when other key players are struggling. The problem is he’s not of that caliber. At this point in his career he’s a rich man’s James Jones but being paid more than Manu Ginobilli. That’s called a sunk cost.
The poor play by Jefferson this season isn’t an anomaly.
He hasn’t played at an elite level measured by PER for years. This is the first season he has posted a PER under the league average and you can’t expect him to get back to that level. Barring a miracle trade with Chris Wallace, the Spurs are stuck with a very expensive and below average small forward.
Looking ahead, the new collective bargaining agreement could put the Spurs in precarious position relating to the cap. One of the rumored demands from the owners is no more guaranteed contracts. With a guaranteed contract well north of 10 million dollars, Jefferson would be even more difficult to dump in that environment. The Spurs would need to give up something valuable in order to get rid of that albatross of a contract in a trade. It’s a tough pill to swallow for Spurs fans, but Jefferson’s ineptitude has clouded the Spurs’ future competitively.
More than likely, Jefferson and Popovich will have another summer of working together as they did last summer. However, RC Buford has turned water into wine before, but he has his work cut out for him on this one.