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June 23, 2009

The Spurs are Going For One More

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:02 pm

ESPN’s Chad Ford has reported that the Milwaukee Bucks and San Antonio Spurs have agreed to a pre-Draft trade that sends Richard Jefferson to Texas in exchange for the expiring contracts of Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas.

This deal signals that San Antonio’s future is now. Before making this deal, the Spurs had the opportunity to instantly rebuild in the summer of 2010, with every signifcant contract up save those of Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Acquiring Jefferson–who has a player option for the 2010-11 season he is sure to pick up–cuts San Antonio’s potential cap space in half, if not more. The Spurs appear willing to sacrifice the early portion of the next decade in order to give their aging core one last chance to win a title.

Can Jefferson push San Antonio over the top? The upside is that when Manu Ginobili is out of the lineup (a reality the Spurs simply must plan for at this point), he gives them a third player capable of creating his own shot, something the team has really missed. The downside is that when San Antonio puts Parker-Ginobili-Jefferson-Duncan-whoever on the floor, that second wing has usually been primarily a spot-up shooter, and that’s not really Jefferson’s forte. He did hit 39.7 percent beyond the arc last season, but that was easily a career high; he’d never before shot better than 36.4 percent on threes. Jefferson has declined significantly since his All-Star prime, and that the Bucks would willingly surrender him solely for expiring contracts indicates how far his value has fallen around the league.

If the Spurs can stay healthy, the addition of Jefferson has a chance to make them the second-best team in the Western Conference next season. San Antonio will need to find lots of help up front, with Matt Bonner now the only rotation-caliber big man the Spurs have under contract save Duncan. No matter who else the Spurs add, it’s tough to see them closing what has become a sizeable gap between them and the Lakers.

From Milwaukee’s perspective, shedding Jefferson’s deal creates more salary-cap flexiblity. According to Ford, the Bucks save about $3 million this year in addition to the massive difference next season, which will help them in their efforts to re-sign Ramon Sessions and Charlie Villanueva. The deal is a damning indictment of Milwaukee’s move to add Jefferson on the day of last year’s Draft. The Bucks could have gotten similar salary-cap relief in 2010 by simply holding on to Bobby Simmons, but gave up Yi Jianlian to the Nets in addition to Simmons to facilitate that trade.

UPDATE: I’m seeing conflicting information on how much of Bowen’s and Oberto’s 2009-10 salaries is guaranteed. We’ll have to wait for the beat writers to sort this out, but it sounds like that could push Milwaukee’s savings for this season to as much as around $7 million, which would be a much larger coup for the Bucks and enough to potentially cover the first-year salary of either Sessions or Villanueva.

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