Richard Jefferson Re-Signs With Spurs For Four Years, $39 Million

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More On The Spurs' Questionable Richard Jefferson Re-Signing

There was just something a little too convenient about Richard Jefferson's extension with the Spurs. To recap: the rapidly declining Jefferson was owed an onerous $15 million this coming season; this salary would have pushed the Spurs well over the luxury tax threshold and made bringing over Tiago Splitter a much more fiscally painful proposition.

But then...mirabile dictu, Jefferson opted out of his contract! I repeat: a 30-year-old small forward coming off the worst season of his career decided against picking up his $15 million player option. This was either inexplicably insane or insanely inexplicable. Or perhaps Jefferson simply enlisted the inestimable Eddy Curry as his financial advisor. Regardless, what could have possibly motivated Jefferson to turn down a cool $15 million after sputtering through the past year in San Antonio? His rationale was that he hoped to secure a long-term contract, in part due to the uncertainty of a new CBA next summer. In an interview with Fanhouse, Jefferson mentioned that he hoped to land a four-year, $40 million deal if he indeed opted out of his current one.

And then...there was nothing. Predictably, teams weren't too interested in an aging player whose game is based on athleticism and who had entered the "precipitous decline" portion of his career. Jefferson seemed to have made a mistake of Sprewell-ian proportions. Until, of course, the Spurs rescued him with a...(wait for it)...four year, $39 million extension. Nearly the exact amount Jefferson asked for a few months prior. This deal was especially expedient for San Antonio because it slashed Jefferson's salary this coming season from $15 million to $8 million, allowing them to keep their nucleus and add Splitter without incurring any crippling luxury tax penalties.

And other NBA executives have taken note, as ESPN's John Hollinger explains:

[The Jefferson re-signing] raised eyebrows in front offices around the league, many of which suspected that there was a prearranged deal between the two parties. [...]

That said, we have no smoking gun that there was any kind of prearranged deal between the Spurs and Jefferson. We don't even have a smokeless gun. All we have is the circumstantial evidence above, as well as two other pieces of information:

1. The Spurs don't sign bad contracts.

2. This is the worst contract of the summer.

In a summer that saw Darko "Manna From Heaven" Milicic net $20 million from the comically inept David Kahn, calling Jefferson's contract the worst of the bunch is a bold statement. But an accurate one -- at least taken in a vacuum. Jefferson is five years older and paid twice as much as Darko, making his contract (slightly) more indefensible. However, there's more going on here. Again from Hollinger:

Follow the money, however. Jefferson's opt-out and lower-salaried return means the Spurs will save about $17 million in salary, luxury tax and tax distributions this year (if one presumes Splitter was coming regardless). Jefferson's new deal cost $31 million after this season, which is all we care about since the Spurs were paying him in 2010-11 either way. Subtract $17 million from $31 million and you end up with Jefferson's deal as a three-year, $14 million extension, which seems eminently reasonable … if you were going to prearrange such a thing.

Suddenly, the Jefferson contract doesn't like quite so bad, does it? The Spurs effectively got him to renegotiate his salary and deferred part of it into the future -- a common practice in the NFL, but which is usually impossible in the NBA due to contracts being guaranteed. Of course, there's absolutely no way to prove that Jefferson and R.C. Buford et. al. colluded on the opt-out/re-signing, but can you think of a better explanation of why the vaunted San Antonio brain trust would throw $39 million at a player on a dramatic downward trajectory?

As long as the ghosts of Joe Smith (whose similar shenanigans cost the T'Wolves four first-round picks) don't visit the Spurs, count this as another coup for Buford and Popovich.

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Did The Spurs Pull A Joe Smith With Richard Jefferson?

In a summer filled with scores of exorbitant contracts handed out to marginal players ($20 million for Darko?), Richard Jefferson's $39 million extension with the Spurs hardly sticks out. Sure, we expect better of the R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich brain trust, but hey, bad contracts happen to good GMs from time to time, right? And besides, perhaps San Antonio is just hoping that Jefferson hasn't really entered the "precipitous decline" portion of his career, and will regress to the mean after a down year. That's more or less the case that Kelly Dwyer over at Yahoo!'s Ball Don't Lie makes:

They had all the bargaining power on their side, and still went ahead and gave the guy a ton of dough. Why, for them?

Teams have hubris, too. They think they can shoehorn any type of player into their system no matter how much on-court struggles are around as proof to the contrary. And Jefferson looked absolutely clueless with the Spurs last season. But they're forgetting next season, which they're right to do, and thinking about last summer. When we lauded them incessantly for grabbing Jefferson, a corner-three shootin' machine who can defend and get to the line.

That's certainly plausible. But isn't it ignoring an equally compelling possibility; the elephant in the room? Consider the facts. Jefferson rather inexplicably opted out of the final year of his deal that would have paid him a ludicrous $15 million. It was as if he suddenly started taking financial advice from Eddy Curry. The rationale Jefferson and his agent gave was that he wanted to sign a long-term deal before the current CBA expires next summer. That makes a glimmer of sense, but it assumed that whatever presumptive gains he'd make in Years 2-4 of any deal would outweigh his losses over the next season; a dubious proposition at best. Until that is, the Spurs even more inexplicably decided to keep Jefferson for $39 million, with only $8 million of that coming in 2010-11.

In other words: Jefferson did the Spurs a favor, opting out of the $15 million he was owed, and they returned the favor, giving him much, much more than anyone else would have likely even conceived, to the tune of $39 million. The end result is that the Spurs were able to bring over Tiago Splitter and hold onto Tony Parker without going over the luxury tax line -- they would have been $15 million over with Jefferson's old salary -- while Jefferson secured a bit more in terms of long-term security than he otherwise would have. The whole arrangement seems a bit too convenient; the chances that the two sides had some sort of wink-wink, quid pro quo worked out the entire way are simply too large to be dismissed.

Of course, we can't prove that the Spurs promised Jefferson they'd re-sign him to a larger, long-term deal if he opted out of his current one, but it's worth remembering that this is almost exactly what David Stern eviscerated the Timberwolves for doing a decade ago. Then, Minnesota signed journeyman Joe Smith to three consecutive one-year deals, after promising that they would then sign him to a near-max contract. When Stern & Co. caught wind of this brazen effort to circumvent the salary cap, they not only voided Smith's deal, but stripped the T'Wolves of five first-round draft choices (which was later reduced to four).

So maybe the Spurs did just make an uncharacteristically poor free agent signing, but there's plenty of smoke here that something else was going on.

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Richard Jefferson Re-Signs With Spurs For Four Years, $39 Million

Richard Jefferson's decision to opt-out of the final year of his deal that was set to pay him $15 in 2010-11 certainly raised some eyebrows a few weeks ago. Why would a player who has entered the "precipitous decline" phase of his career turn down a cool $15 million for the uncertainty of free agency? Well, the rationale Jefferson and his agent gave was that he wanted to sign a long-term deal now, before a new CBA will presumably limit such deals. That makes a bit of sense, but it didn't seem likely Jefferson would recoup the money he turned down, right?

Turns out, maybe Jefferson knew exactly what he was doing. According to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News, Jefferson has come to terms with the Spurs on a four-year deal worth up to $39 million; the last year is only partially guaranteed. The year-by-year breakdown is as follows: Jefferson will receive $8.4 million in 2011, $9.3 million in 2012, $10.2 million in 2013, and $11 million in 2014, although it's not clear how much of that last season is guaranteed.

From the Spurs' perspective, they have cut nearly half of what they owed to Jefferson for the upcoming season, though it came at the cost of paying Jefferson exorbitant amounts for at least two more years. Considering how much Jefferson struggled this past season picking up San Antonio's system, it's puzzling to say the least why they'd throw even more money at Jefferson, with a contract that will pay him until he's 34 years old.

As for Jefferson, securing an additional $12-24 million for the next four seasons is a coup for a player whose game relies on his diminishing athleticism.

For more on Jefferson and the Spurs, check out Pounding The Rock.

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