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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Discussing some smaller NBA moves, Part 1

There has been so much focus on the big names in free agency that sometimes the complementary players are overlooked. Here’s a rundown of some of the mid-level names that have changed teams this summer:

Raymond Felton signs with the Knicks. (2/$15 M)
When life gives you lemons… Donnie Walsh managed to sign Amare Stoudemire, but struck out on LeBron, Wade and Bosh. So instead of overpaying for another big-name free agent, or even re-signing David Lee, Walsh signed a capable point guard in Felton to run Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo system. Most importantly, he negotiated a short, two-year contract (with a possible third season as a team option) to allow the pursuit of Chris Paul if/when he becomes a free agent in two years. Felton averaged 12-4-6 and shot 46% from the field for the Bobcats last season. His numbers are sure to rise in New York assuming he gets the same run (33 mpg).

Jermaine O’Neal signs with the Celtics. (2/$12 M)
Rasheed Wallace is retiring, so the C’s needed to shore up its front line in order to contend with Dwight Howard, Carlos Boozer and Chris Bosh in the playoffs. O’Neal isn’t the player he used to be, but he averaged 14-7 and shot a career high (53%) for the Heat last season. He’s a big body and decent defender and he’s capable of hitting a face up jumper when given the opportunity. As long as he holds up, this is a nice signing by Boston.

Kyle Korver signs with the Bulls. (3/$15 M)
Chicago lacked three-point shooting last season and Korver fills that need. He hit almost 54% from deep last season and is a career 41% shooter. He should be a nice fit as a spot up shooter with Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer, but needs to shoot 40%+ from 3PT to justify a starting spot. He’s better defensively as a small forward than as a shooting guard, so it’s not clear how he and Luol Deng will play together. I expected Korver to get a full mid-level deal in this market so the Bulls got him for a relatively good price.

Tiago Splitter signs with the Spurs. (3/$11 M)
This deal happened rather quietly, but San Antonio finally has its 2007 first round draft pick under contract… at a bargain. Splitter is a 25-year-old, 6-11 center who was named the MVP of the Spanish League last season. He averaged 16-7 and shot 58% from the field in 28 minutes a game. While he’s not a great rebounder, he’s good defensively and can take some of the scoring load off of Tim Duncan. At under $4 million a season, he’s a steal.

Al Harrington signs with the Nuggets. (5/$34 M)
Harrington’s 18-6 line from last season needs to be taken with a grain of salt since he was playing for a pretty bad Knicks team that played at a very high pace. The Nuggets outbid the Mavs for Harrington’s services and Denver had to overpay to lock him up. The Nuggets will be without Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen to start the season and Nene is always a threat to miss time with injury, so Harrington gives the team a big body who can score when called upon. He’s 30, so this contract is not going to look very good in 2-3 years, but such is the market for big men.

Part 2: Tyson Chandler, Brendan Haywood, Tony Allen, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Kyle Lowry, Steve Blake

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