Richard Jefferson's Surprise Decision Should Spook San Antonio Spurs

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IJuly 1, 2010

SAN ANTONIO - MAY 09:  Forward Richard Jefferson #24 of the San Antonio Spurs in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 9, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs hoped to structure their low-key summer around the expected signing of Brazilian big man Tiago Splitter.

The prized 2007 first-round draft pick appears ready to leave Spain and head to South Texas to complete the Europe-to-NBA jump.

GM R.C. Buford did not plan on a visit to a particular star's door step, or that a key cog not poised to hit the market would.

The team drafted Oklahoma State guard James Anderson last week and hoped to make another small splash this month by landing an additional role player. Matt Barnes, anyone?

Late Wednesday night, forward Richard Jefferson whacked Buford over the head with a frying pan the size of the Alamo. From floating the lazy river at a water park to now searching for a new starter at small forward, Jefferson's decision to opt out of his contract and leave $15 million on the table as reported by the San Antonio Express-News could send them into an unexpected scramble mode.

That lazy river may have become an ocean. As Hurricane Alex approaches Mexico and Texas, Hurricane Richard threatens to leave San Antonio a mess. A category one storm still qualifies as a dangerous event.

His potential departure would not sting if the front office had the cap space to lure a replacement. His exit would hurt the squad from a talent standpoint and might taint what remains of the Tim Duncan era.

This ranks as good news only in the eyes of delusional folks who do not understand the salary cap and how it handicaps the Spurs this summer.

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I still contend the trade that landed him in San Antonio was a stupendous move. Buford surrendered bit role players in Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto, and Kurt Thomas and netted a versatile athlete with NBA Finals experience.

Waiting another year to fetch Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili some help would have proven disastrous. Chris Bosh was never coming to San Antonio, so get real. That "special" player the Spurs could have landed this summer was a pipe dream.

Buford isn't the weed-smoking type.

Jefferson wasn't that bad, and another year might allow him to coalesce better with his All-Star teammates.

If he leaves, the Spurs will have about $7 million total to sign Anderson, Splitter and find another small forward. They would have the same amount had he opted in for the final year of his deal.

Then, Buford could have pursued Barnes as a final glue piece. No one seems to know what Jefferson was thinking, or if he was thinking at all, when he walked away from $15 million.

In the most optimistic view, he opted out to afford the Spurs more wiggle room to improve the roster.

For those who prefer pessimism, he opted out to find another squad that he feels better suits his abilities. It says here the Spurs can still become that team.

The looming 2011 lockout could dampen the Spurs' financial future, as it would the entire league. Financial security surely factored into Jefferson's decision.

Jefferson must also hope that a team will offer him a multi-year deal that allows him to recoup some of the dough he forfeited Wednesday night. San Antonio better make sure it becomes that team.

The Spurs lack the money and the ability to find a comparable substitute.

I will write more as Jefferson's motives and landing spot become clearer.