Posted by Art Garcia
On the surface it appears Richard Jefferson opting out of the last year of his contract for $15.2 million is a major gamble. At least one veteran league observer half-heartedly speculated that RJ won’t make $15.2 million the rest of his career.
While it’s a safe bet Jefferson won’t make that kind of money next season, especially coming off a disappointing year in San Antonio, the small forward could take advantage of a seller’s market. With at least eight teams out there with significant cap room and only so many star players to go around, Jefferson could easily be seen as a safe fallback.
Even after LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dirk Nowitzki, Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer come off the board, there’s going to be money out there to spend and clubs who were shut out of the above.
Remember the $80 million combined Detroit spent last summer on Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva? Some team is going to panic — Clippers or Knicks, perhaps — and reach out to RJ to make sure its summer isn’t a total washout.
Jefferson is hardly damaged goods. He just turned 30 this month and even though he averaged just 12.3 points as a bad fit in the Spurs’ system last season, he’s still got a career scoring average of 17.0 and has been reasonably durable. He was productive for so many years in New Jersey and during his Milwaukee stopover, can get out on the break, is considered coachable and doesn’t make waves in the locker room.
Getting back in a running offense with a pass-first point guard, instead of San Antonio’s halfcourt attack built around Tim Duncan and Tony Parker‘s shoot-first mentality, could signal a career rebirth for Jefferson. Maybe that’s worth a contract similar to the five years and nearly $40 million Shawn Marion received from Dallas last summer. Marion didn’t exactly light it up in Miami or Toronto before the Mavericks came calling.
Or maybe the Spurs work out a new contract for a more cap-friendly figure with Jefferson, realizing he’s still probably a better option than anything San Antonio can realistically hope to find on the open market. Jefferson signing a new deal now does protect him from possible salary rollbacks of the next CBA.
In another other year, opting out of such a windfall would seem extremely foolish. Maybe RJ is smarter than the rest of us.