Why the Spurs shouldn’t use the amnesty clause on Richard Jefferson
There are at least three arguments in favor of the Spurs severing ties with Richard Jefferson.
The first is money. The Spurs need more of it, and using the amnesty clause on Richard Jefferson is one way to create a little bit of room for themselves beneath the tax line. Unfortunately for the Spurs, that little bit really isn’t much. Depending on what happens with Antonio McDyess, the Spurs sans Jefferson will be over the cap and within a few million of the tax line. Breathing room, yes, but still uncomfortably tight.
My suspicion is the Spurs will accept that they’re tax payers this season and accept whatever that means in terms of tax.
The second reason the Spurs could use the amnesty clause on Richard Jefferson is Kawhi Leonard. As in, the Spurs traded away George Hill to draft an A-list small forward. It’s not the sort of move RC Buford makes unless the Spurs plan to use Leonard immediately. George Hill is too steep a price for bench fodder.
The final reason the Spurs could use the amnesty on Richard Jefferson is roster space. Assuming they have a reasonable amount of confidence in Kawhi Leonard and—don’t forget—James Anderson to absorb Jefferson’s minutes, the Spurs could opt to create roster space by losing RJ.
Let me explain.
The Spurs’ training camp should include James Anderson, DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner, Da’Sean Butler, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Richard Jefferson, Cory Joseph, Kawhi Leonard, Antonio McDyess, Gary Neal, Tony Parker, and Tiago Splitter. Fourteen players in total. If Antonio McDyess retires, a minimum thirteen players are already locks for Spurs camp.
But notice that roster. The closest thing the Spurs have to a reserve point guard is Gary Neal. And the San Antonio Spurs who were abused by the Grizzlies frontline last April, still look thin up front, at least when compared to their likely postseason match-ups. DeJuan Blair and Matt Bonner are situational players, and it’s difficult, for purposes of spacing, to play Splitter with Blair or Duncan for long stretches.
This is all to say the Spurs’ roster is already at a minimum of thirteen players and they need to add at least one point guard and a rotation quality big. Some might argue the Spurs could use a defensive combo forward (in addition to rookie Kawhi Leonard) and I wouldn’t argue with them. But again, where do they find the roster space and with what money?
Looking at the current roster, the Spurs are most intriguing at small forward. Without Richard Jefferson, the Spurs boast the dangerously inexperienced but potential-laden foursome of Kawhi Leonard, James Anderson, Danny Green, and Da’Sean Butler. I wouldn’t want to go into the postseason with that group, but it does give the Spurs something to think about in terms of Richard Jefferson.
Jefferson, you’ll remember, was benched at the very end of San Antonio’s series with Memphis.
Why the Spurs will keep Richard Jefferson
But still, having said all that, there are a number of considerations that make Jefferson’s situation more favorable than we might assume. In other words, there are a number of reasons the smart money says the Spurs will not use the amnesty clause on Richard Jefferson.
First, there is the issue of the short season, and, even more importantly, the short training camp.
Teams which are system-smart and feature low turnover will have an advantage over teams learning new systems or are trying to incorporate several new players. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Spurs jump out on the Western Conference because of this. Apart from Kawhi Leonard, their entire rotation knows their system right now. (We also await the new schedule, which, because of the Rodeo Road Trip, could feature a home court heavy first half of the season for San Antonio.)
Richard Jefferson’s system-smarts are enough of a reason to favor him over newcomer Kawhi Leonard and relative newcomer James Anderson.
Second, the Spurs’ projected rotation will feature Tiago Splitter, DeJuan Blair, and Kawhi Leonard. None of these players can shoot. Richard Jefferson, no matter how underwhelming he’s performed in San Antonio, still hit .440 from range last season.
Third, as we saw above, the Spurs actually don’t have a strong financial incentive to use the amnesty clause on RJ. A better scenario is to find a trade partner for his services and, in return, fill a need at point guard or power forward.
Richard Jefferson’s trade value under the previous CBA was low, but the new CBA provides more trade flexibility and incentive, which might change the market on RJ. In terms of salary match, teams under the cap can now take back 150% plus 100,000 in contracts. And the new minimum payroll floor is higher under this CBA. Some teams that are beneath the cap will have to scramble to meet minimum salary requirements (the requirement is up from 75 to 85% of the cap). Teams like the Nets and Kings have work to do on this front.
Fourth, if the Spurs are set on using the amnesty clause on Richard Jefferson, it makes more sense to wait until Tim Duncan’s current contract expires. Tim Duncan’s 21 million dollar contract expires at the end of this season and Richard Jefferson is set to make 10 million next year. Antonio McDyess is still a question mark for this season, but his expiring contract is slated for 5.2 million this season.
Add it up and the Spurs could clear as much as 36 million from their cap in 8 short months. This could make the Spurs big players in next summer’s free agent market. Plus, it gives the team a year to groom Kawhi Leonard and James Anderson, better assessing what they have in each player and identifying where they fit in the team’s future.
Taken altogether, the Spurs are best served to either trade Richard Jefferson or wait until next summer to use the amnesty clause on his contract.