Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ask And You Shall Receive

Reigning Black

Back in April, Chris Tomasson authored a piece for FanHouse revealing Richard Jefferson was indeed pondering the possibility of opting out of his contract. And as preposterous as it sounded then -- a player deemed to be underachieving and hardly worth the $14.2 million he'd earn for the performance -- Jefferson had his reasons:

"That's a situation I think every player will look at at the end of the season. I probably wouldn't make 15 (million dollars) some place, but you could somehow recoup some of that over a multi-year deal and get some guaranteed money for the next few years."

With the uncertainty of impending CBA negotiations and the very likely prospect the Players' Association will fail to improve upon the players' future contractual earnings -- in fact, it's been widely thought the players could find lower salaries, less guaranteed money and fewer years -- the feeling around free-agency has been, 'Get it while the gettin's good.'

"So you figure it out," Jefferson said. If you get 4 years and 40 (million dollars by opting out) from someone, it's like, 'OK, I did lose out on 15 (million dollars). But I'm going to get basically a $25 million extension.' Those are things you think of at the end of the season."

Richard Jefferson has now officially re-signed with the Spurs and though terms were not disclosed -- per team policy -- both David Aldridge of and Don Harris of News4 WOAI have reported the final agreement to be 4 years, $38.8 million with $8.4 million due in his first year -- Jefferson has a player option of just over $11 million in his final year, the framework essentially of a max ascending contract. (Note: Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News has issued a correction to his reporting of the final year player option being partially guaranteed -- it is in fact fully guaranteed.)

Given the final figure and the proximity to the 4 years and $40 million Jefferson suggested in April, one has to wonder if the wheels didn't start turning then for the Spurs' front office. Clearly Jefferson had talked with his agent and had discussions about his financial future with an opt out to weigh and a CBA to expire -- it's not hard to imagine the Spurs finding his suggestion to not only be reasonable, but preferable; envisioning Coach Popovich walking into their first negotiation, a 4-year, roughly $40 million contract in hand, making his way to the table and saying: "Let me know when you're ready to sign, R.J.," isn't all that hard to do.

And given the final contract's numbers, it's not all that hard to believe the Spurs did in fact put an offer on the table for Jefferson to sign -- or not sign -- after testing free-agent waters. How else is it that he received a contract starting at roughly $8.4 million and ascends yearly to a final salary of just over $11 million? 

There were eleven teams outside of the Spurs capable of paying Jefferson more than the Mid-Level exception. Of those eleven teams, four (Cavaliers Clippers, Nets and Heat) had a hole at the small forward position. The remaining six (Blazers, Bulls, Knicks, Thunder, Wizards and Wolves) had talent at the position or were looking to play their youth as a means to rebuild. The only competition -- as it turns out -- happened to be the Spurs.

But the restructuring of Jefferson's assumed salary for next year has allowed the Spurs to stretch their money a little further. Instead of paying Jefferson $15.2 million solely, they'll now be able to fit Jefferson, Splitter and Bonner into that same figure. The Spurs gained more flexibility with regards to the tax line and have upgraded their talent level for essentially the same bill they would have received had Jefferson picked up his option.

The Spurs are currently under the tax line but utilizing their Bi-Annual exception or the remainder of their Mid Level exception will probably result in the team becoming a taxpayer. And according to David Aldridge, that's actually part of the Spurs and Peter Holt's plan:

"Spurs owner Peter Holt has committed to paying luxury tax again next season and in 2011-12, the final two years of star center Tim Duncan's contract."

As alluded to in Part 2: Executing The Plan, the Spurs set this ball in motion upon acquiring Jefferson June, 23 of last year. They were aware of Duncan's tenuous window of title contention and of the new landscape that had beset the league. After years of being "frugal" and piecing together championship-caliber teams without being a real taxpayer, the business model had to change.

"We've always wanted to compete, and the environment in the NBA allowed a team like us to do so," Popovich said. "If you wanted to work at having a shot at winning the championship and still be under the tax, it could be done."

"But the way the talent has shifted in the league, it's almost impossible to do that now."

In truth, the Spurs didn't have much of a choice in the re-signing of Jefferson, they had to continue to execute the plan they'd set forth. As slim as their chances might be to win another title before the best and most successful player to ever don the Black and Silver hangs them up, the chances that they would do so by trading Parker -- their only true trade asset capable of bringing back enough value -- are even slimmer. The Spurs just don't have the means to acquire a great enough player to overcome a first year transition or enough time to let a good player acclimate to a first year transition. The Spurs have Jefferson; and as underwhelming as he was last year, there's no first year transition.

It's been reported that Popovich has turned personal coach and trainer this year, and why wouldn't he? So much of the Spurs' success will depend on internal growth and individuals fulfilling their potential and promise. This team's fate has never been so dependent on the collective; playing together and for each other? Yes. But never have so many had to play such a crucial or prominent role.

The Spurs will bring back the majority of a team that made it to the Western Conference semi-finals in a year where they overcame so much before being overcome to the tune of 4-0 -- their once faithful doormat exacting a little revenge. They were flawed, battered and old, yet the Western Conference finals weren't far off -- and the Spurs do have a have the ability to improve from within. Players like Hill, Blair, Anderson and the freshly-signed Neal, to go along with roster hopefuls Hairston, Temple and Gee, there's reason to believe the Spurs could see a good amount of improvement and be a much-improved team after seemingly modest additions; Splitter's grabbed the headlines but the Spurs' most significant additions should be a healthy and rested Big 3 united from Day One. 

And should Year 2 bring the calm and comfort to see Jefferson thrive as some of his Spurs predecessors?

The Spurs won't have re-signed a player, they'll have reaped the rewards of the little time they bought.


  1. Appreciate it, fxfuji.

    Nice to see a brave soul breaking the ice on these comments - we're hoping to talk a little b-ball with you guys here.

  2. I agree with much of what has been written here about Jefferson. I think he has significant upside potential going forward, as 1) he'll have figured out and gotten comfortable in the Spurs' system; and 2) the Spurs will have figured out how to best use his skill set.

    He actually didn't do a bad job of sitting in Bruce Bowen's old corner office and hitting the three; he managed nearly 40% from one corner. It's all the 3s he took between the top of the key and the corners that killed his 3 pt FG%. I think he'd shoot at a higher percentage if the Spurs gave him some touches early in the game and in the possessions. The games he played really well were often ones where he got going early with an easy backdoor layup or some other easy score, so if his teammates look to get him involved in the flow of the offense, it will pay dividends for the team as a whole.

    I think Coach Pop was well aware of the possibility that it might take some time for RJ to become Sean Elliott 2.0, since he suggested that the process of working out the kinks could take up to a season. I also think the fact that Coach worked with RJ this summer says a lot about his commitment to (and the importance to the team of) RJ's success. Now, if they could just implement some plays to take advantage of Jefferson's slashing and cutting and finishing skills, I'd be very happy.