Going into last season, Richard Jefferson had to feel pretty good about his chances of keeping his job as the starting small forward for the San Antonio Spurs. He had started all 81 of the games he played in during the 2010-11 season, averaging 13 points and shooting a career-best 44 percent from 3-point range. He was just 31 years old and, perhaps most importantly, had two years and a player option -- plus $19.4 million left -- on his contract. For better or worse, it appeared that Jefferson would be a fixture in San Antonio in the immediate future.
Then Kawhi Leonard came along. The San Diego State product and was drafted by the Indiana Pacers with the 15th pick last June, then shipped to San Antonio for veteran guard George Hill. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has always been leery of rookies, however, and with the lockout eliminating last year's summer league, off-season workout programs and most of training camp, it didn't seem likely that Leonard could uproot Jefferson from his position. However, the compressed schedule forced teams to use their full rosters last season and Leonard quickly proved his prowess and versatility on the defensive end of the floor. When he started to consistently knock down corner 3s, that was it. San Antonio was better off with Leonard in the lineup and after starting 41 games, Jefferson found himself finishing the season as a backup for the Golden State Warriors.
Every year, established veterans give way to younger players. It's the way of the sports world. Such players in the NBA tend to have more raw athleticism, are more prone to accept supporting roles and are cheaper options to fill out a roster. With that in mind and using Chad Ford's Mock Draft 7.0 as our guide, let's look at 10 veterans who could find their starting role or roster spot usurped next season by an incoming rookie.
Emeka Okafor, Hornets
Technically, Okafor doesn't play the same position as probable No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis, but that doesn't make his long-term employment prospects any more encouraging. Like Davis, Okafor is a defense-first big man but everything he does, Davis is likely to do better. And since Okafor is a full decade older, the rookie has possibilities for growth that Okafor has long exhausted. The question will be whom the Hornets pair with Davis initially. It seems likely they would want to find an offense-oriented center that could help keep the pressure off of Davis on that end of the floor. They could opt to use their selection at No. 10 for such a player, perhaps Meyers Leonard or Tyler Zeller. They may want to expand the role of last year's rookie find, Gustavo Ayon, who posted a 16.7 PER and may be capable of higher-usage job.
Either way, with veteran Jason Smith also around for stability, Okafor doesn't seem to fit into the new New Orleans mix. He's a capable player, but won't fill a role large enough to justify the $28.2 million he's got left on his contract for one season plus an early-termination option for another. The Hornets could use the amnesty clause on him, but their salary cap obligations are low enough that doing so might actually make it difficult to spend up to next season's salary floor. So a trade that brings back an expiring deal seems more likely. Or Okafor may indeed remain in New Orleans past the start of next season, but that's just staving off the inevitable. The bell tolled for him the moment the lottery balls came up New Orleans' way.
Elton Brand, Sixers
It's hard to say any player is a cinch to have the amnesty tag slapped on him because even though the clause offers breathing room under the salary cap to teams like the Sixers, it's still a big chunk of change that a team's owner has to eat. Brand has an early-termination option for $18.2 million left on his contract. He's not going to opt out -- he wouldn't get half that on the open market -- so if the Sixers want to create any flexibility for next season, they are going to have to swallow that money. Brand's skills are declining and he doesn't really fit on a young and improving Philadelphia squad that was the surprise team of this year's playoffs. Plus, they may need Brand's salary slot to retain potential free agents Spencer Hawes and Lou Williams.
Ford currently has Philadelphia taking Kentucky's Terrence Jones at No. 15, who would pair with second-year big man LaVoy Allen to give the Sixers an excellent offense-defense combo at the four, though Allen can also slide over and play center. Hawes, Thaddeus Young and Nikola Vucevic would fill out a deep, young frontcourt rotation for the Sixers into which Brand simply no longer fits. Amnestying Brand may not be a cinch, but a selection of Jones would nudge the possibility into the vicinity of death and taxes.
Jason Thompson, Kings
Ford has the Kings taking big man Andre Drummond with the fifth pick and the rumor mill keeps spitting out speculation that Sacramento indeed wants a second big man to pair with DeMarcus Cousins. Thompson was once thought to be the frontcourt building block in Sacramento, but he turned out to be the kind of player who broke into the NBA already at his athletic ceiling. Now the Kings have to make a qualifying offer to Thompson in order to maintain the rights associated with a restricted free agent, something the team pledges to do. However, if Drummond is selected, the Kings would have to wedge him onto a roster that already includes Cousins, Chuck Hayes and Hassan Whiteside. While Drummond and Whiteside are project-type big men, retaining Thompson would mean adding another middle-slot salary to a roster already glutted with those flexibility killers. The Kings can't keep building around mediocrities.
Dorrell Wright, Warriors
DeMar DeRozan, Raptors
Talent and dollars mandate that four-fifths of next year's starting lineup in Golden State will be comprised of Andrew Bogut, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee. It's an exciting mix, one that calls out for a good, athletic, complementary small forward. Jefferson (or, more accurately, Jefferson's contract) will still be around, but he's likely to continue in the bench role he filled after being acquired from the Spurs last season. Frankly, Wright seems like a good fit. He's started all 143 games he's played in since coming to the Warriors and last year posted a league-average PER for the second straight campaign. His salary fits, as do his low-usage ways. Nevertheless, every rumor you read about the Warriors has them trying to upgrade Wright's position, and Ford has them taking Harrison Barnes at No. 7. If the Warriors don't have any use for Wright, there will be plenty of teams willing to put him to work.
DeRozan is a problematic player. His physical gifts are unquestioned. However, his production has stagnated over his three NBA seasons. Last year, he used up a quarter of possessions while he was on the floor for Toronto. You expect a hit on efficiency when a player moves into a higher-usage responsibility, but DeRozan's efficiency went into the toilet as he posted a .503 true shooting percentage that was way under the league average. The lack of development is troubling as he enters the fourth season of his rookie contract, the time when teams have to make hard decisions regarding their young talent. Ford has the Raptors taking wing player Dion Walters at No. 8, something that might punch DeRozan's eventual ticket out of town.
Amir Johnson, Raptors
Johnson is the type of player that is useful if deployed appropriately, but if he's one of your starting big men, you're always going to be looking for an upgrade. The main reason the Raptors can go small with that eighth pick is that last year's first-round pick, Jonas Valanciunas, will be coming over to the Western Hemisphere to team with Andrea Bargnani on the Toronto front line. Unlike Bargnani, who is the prototypical European perimeter-floating big man, Valanciunas is more of a traditional NBA pivot. He's also young, which could preserve Johnson's starting job for a spell, but long term Valanciunas is going to take over the center position in Toronto.
Jared Dudley, Suns
Dudley will probably be a Sun next season, and for several more after that. He's signed through the 2015-16 season at a very reasonable rate, so unless he's packaged in a trade, he'll be a member of the Suns' rotation for years to come. However, his role as a full-time starter was probably a one-off deal. As a 3-and-defense kind of player, he's a good complement to Steve Nash. Alas, Nash will probably move on to greener pastures now that he's a free agent, meaning the Suns will need a more traditional starting shooting guard, one that can create his own offense. Ford has them pegged for Austin Rivers at No. 13, which makes sense on a lot of level. Rivers can create for himself and others, has a high ceiling and has a certain cachet that will bring needed personality to a rebuilding roster. If that happens, Dudley will go back to the bench role he's performed so well over the years.
Samuel Dalembert, Rockets
Dalembert has a partially-guaranteed deal for next season and combined with Marcus Camby to give the Rockets a formidable center tandem down the stretch last season. Camby is a free agent, but the Houston native has already stated that he'd like to finish his career with the Rockets and, presumably, would be willing to do so in a supporting role. Houston is still looking to fill the gigantic void left by Yao Ming's retirement, which is why it was so disappointing when their deal for the Lakers' Pau Gasol was nixed by the league last December. Ford has the Rockets going with North Carolina center Tyler Zeller late in the lottery. Chances are, Houston will be aggressive on the trade market, but if nothing comes off in that regard, Zeller would make sense. And at that point, it probably wouldn't make sense to guarantee the entire $6.7 million left on Dalembert's deal.
Jason Kidd, Mavericks
It's hard to know what's going to happen with Jason Kidd. Judging from his recent comments, he's accepted that a backup role may be best for him at this point. However, if Dallas is successful in its quest to add Deron Williams and Ford is correct in predicting that the Mavericks draft Kendall Marshall, there may not be a backup role for him to fill in Dallas. If Williams doesn't come and the Mavericks still draft Marshall, would Kidd back up a rookie? Would the Mavericks want him to?
Wesley Johnson, Timberwolves
When your rebuilding plan results in you finding long-term solutions at point guard, center and power forward, you're off to a really good start. The Timberwolves' challenge is to find wing players to complement Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Love. Last season, Johnson was one of the worst starters in the NBA. His performance was bad enough, but his style is also a poor fit for Minnesota's new core, whether he plays the two or the three. Ford has the Wolves taking Terrence Ross at No. 18. The slick-shooting guard could be everything that Johnson is not -- a deep-range, efficient shooter who can also defend either wing position. That'd be a great pick if Minnesota can't trade its way up the draft board, something that could happen if a package that may include Johnson is accepted by the right team.
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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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