Was Richard Jefferson’s deal prearranged?

Oct 14, 2008 - Guangzhou, Guangdong, China - RICHARD JEFFERSON of NBA's Milwaukee Bucks attends a training session at the Guangzhou Gymnasium in Guangzhou. NBA China Games 2008, featuring the opening game between Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks, will tip off in Guangzhou on Oct. 15 Photo via Newscom

John Hollinger breaks down the financial impact of Richard Jefferson’s decision to opt out and his resulting contract with the Spurs. Skip to the bolded text if you’re not interested in the nuts and bolts.

On the other hand, they got under the tax solely because Richard Jefferson opted out of a final year on his deal that would have paid him $15 million. This one raised eyebrows in front offices around the league, many of which suspected that there was a prearranged deal between the two parties.

This isn’t an outlandish premise, given that:

• Jefferson told reporters in April that it might be worth it to opt out if he could get a four-year, $40 million deal (he said it right here on April 11).

• That’s almost to the dollar the deal he received in July.

• Doing so got the Spurs out of the luxury tax and allowed them to sign Splitter at a discount.

• There didn’t appear to be any kind of serious bid from another team to drive up Jefferson’s price.

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.

Seriously, four years and $39 million for Richard Jefferson? Did Isiah Thomas take over the franchise and not tell anybody? Wings who depend on athleticism have a rough time in their late 20s and early 30s; Jefferson just turned 30. He wasn’t a $10 million per year player two years ago, and sure as heck isn’t going to be one two years down the road.

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.

In other words, it was in the Spurs’ benefit for Jefferson to opt out and sign a longer deal at a lower average salary due to the cost savings this season. That savings put the Spurs under the cap and allowed them to sign Tiago Splitter, which Hollinger calls the best contract of the summer.

Hmm.

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