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Acquiring Richard Jefferson: Hardly a No-Brainer

10/20/2009

Assuming this Richard Jefferson for Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas trade becomes official, the Spurs will, no doubt, be declared the big winners not only of this trade, but possibly of the whole week (which includes the draft) and maybe the off-season.

The Bucks are seen as having done well simply by getting rid of Jefferson's inflated contract. Yet there is a lot to recommend the move by the Spurs. As John Hollinger points out, Jefferson has the ability to make the corner 3, which tends to be available in the Spurs' offense. He alleviates the scoring pressure from the Spurs' big three. He can also supply some of the slashing that comes from an injury-prone Manu Ginobili.

But it's hardly a slam dunk.

There are three boilerplate concerns:

  • Richard Jefferson has a reputation as a guy who speaks his mind, and in so doing causes friction with teammates and coaches. Perhaps the Spurs have an advantage here, with strong team leadership from Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich, but they have gone to great lengths to avoid such players in the past.

  • Jefferson will be 29 next season, which would seem to make him a player in his prime. Yet Jefferson appears to already be several years into decline. His true shooting percentage and PER were at their peaks in 2005-2006, while his percentages of rebounds, assists, steals and blocks were at their best a year before that. I know, I know, he played with Jason Kidd, who helps to inflate teammates statistics. But the fact remains that he is, now, essentially an average NBA player.

  • The Bucks were slightly better, last year, when Jefferson was on the bench

Here's where the move seems to be slightly higher risk still: This robs the Spurs of cap space in 2010. So the analysis of this deal is not about what they gave up in the trade -- Bowen, Thomas and Oberto are worth Jefferson, for sure. But for this deal, in the summer of 2010, the Spurs would have been Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and oodles of cap space. Who would that have become? Somebody! Potentially somebody really special. And that's the player the Spurs silently included in this deal today.

I understand why they did that. They have a few years left of Tim Duncan's career, and it's going to take a lot of improvement to win the West -- the Lakers are far better at this point, and new threats like the Nuggets, Blazers and Thunder are entering the scene. So there's a mandate to win now, and inspired by that, they have gambled in a way they might not have in the past.

It may well work out beautifully. But this is not a steal, nor is it a no-brainer. It's one of the highest-risk moves the Spurs have made in the Tim Duncan era.