You would think you've been around the block a few times when it comes to the NBA. That you've whittled the league down to two things you can count on, time and again.
Players will always overrate their own value. And the San Antonio Spurs do everything right.
So that's why the news, which hit late last month about Richard Jefferson(notes) opting out of the last year of a contract that would pay him $15 million next season, always made sense. Not for Jefferson -- it was possible he could have snagged a nice deal on the open market, but by and large it was assumed he was nuts because nobody would overpay for someone who was so miserable on the court last season -- but in NBA terms. It made sense because the guy was overrating his own value.
And even when it became apparent the Spurs would be the team to re-sign Jefferson -- that they had been working in concert with him to encourage the opt out, and would be engineering a penny-foolish, pound-wise deal to aid him into his 30s -- it still made sense. The Spurs, you watch, will do everything right.
Then the news hits yesterday. Jefferson re-signs for four years, $38.8 million. Guh. And the fourth year, which everyone assumed to be non-guaranteed, is actually a player option. As if Jefferson is going to think twice about wanting to be paid $11 million in 2013-14.
But the Spurs ... the Spurs did this? The rules! THE RULES!
How many fouls do you get a game, again?
This was a pretty nice move from the Spurs, to say the least. Swell guys, those Spurs. They had all the bargaining power on their side, and still went ahead and gave the guy a ton of dough. Why?
Teams have hubris, too. They think they can shoehorn any type of player into their system no matter how much on-court struggles are around as proof to the contrary. Jefferson looked absolutely clueless with the Spurs last season. But they're forgetting last season, which they're right to do, and thinking about last summer. When we lauded them incessantly for grabbing Jefferson, a corner 3-point shootin' machine who can defend and get to the line.
They think, with another year's tutelage, that this guy can come back for them. And I can't blame them for this. They're more than likely right. And not just in the "they're the Spurs" context.
What's become obvious is that Jefferson the player, even if overpaid, is worth more to the Spurs than that empty slot and the potential for cap and payroll flexibility. That's not always the case in this league, and with so many players disappointing or contracts going over the top (in order to mitigate that "hey, they need a warm body there"-ness). It's something we often forget.
What I just wonder about, still, is the length and the terms.
Jefferson is 30. Now, the Spurs are his buddy, right? And just to be real, real cool buddies, they're operating under the pre-2011 mindset. The one that tells you that guys like Richard can always get something close to the average salary on the open market. Because that's what Jefferson, if shopping himself this year or next, would have probably been offered. Even with a team like Chicago needing wing help.
So let's say Jefferson opts in, makes his $15 million, and then signs a three-year deal next summer with some other team for $16 million total. That's $31 million over four years, and again, this is working under the assumption that the current salary rules hold up. Which they won't. Next year, all those three-year, $16 million contracts we've seen for years could be three-year, $9 million contracts.
But just for Jefferson's sake, let's assume he was going to grab a near-average deal under the current landscape. Combine the two deals? Overall, four years, $31 million. A bit of a disconnect from four years, $38.8 million, eh?
The Spurs did this guy a favor. He turned 30 earlier this summer and has seen his per-minute contributions decline two years in a row. He could bounce back for a season or even two, and the Spurs need someone at his position. But nearly eight-figures-a-year "need"?
What a summer.