Feb. 21, 2012; Portland, OR, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich speaks with San Antonio Spurs small forward Richard Jefferson (24) during the first quarter of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-US PRESSWIRE

Season review: Richard Jefferson


The profile
Minutes: 28.5
Points: 9.2
Rebounds: 3.5
Assists: 1.3
FG%: 41.4%
3P%: 42.1%
FT%: 68.6%

The (advanced) profile
TS%: 55.6%
USG%: 14.6%
PER: 10.9
Offensive PPP: 1.01 (43rd)
Defensive PPP: 0.89 (303rd)
Offensive rating (points per 100 possessions): 110
Defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions): 106

It was an exciting time to be a Spurs fan. While they had to follow a first-round exit at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks, they made a trade that, at the time, seemed to be the perfect move to alleviate the mounting scoring pressure heaved on Parker, Ginobili and Duncan. They flipped, essentially, Bruce Bowen, Fabricio Oberto and Kurt Thomas for Richard Jefferson. I vividly remember my reaction: I was enthused that, finally, San Antonio acquired a wing with tangible athleticism and scoring chops. How could the Spurs be stopped when there were four guys capable of scoring the ball? Chad Ford felt the same way in his trade reaction piece.

    Jefferson gives the Spurs the additional scorer they craved in April, when the Dallas Mavericks ousted San     Antonio the playoffs in five games. The Spurs were little more than a two-man show of Parker and Duncan,     and coach Gregg Popovich said afterward that his team simply couldn’t match firepower.

At the same time, I was deeply saddened by the departure of Bowen and, to a less extent, Oberto. I loved those guys. They were apart of my favorite Spurs title team in ’05 and played a brand of basketball that I could appreciate.

The return for our investment was going to be, however, much more substantial than what an aging Bowen and Oberto (who suffered with an unfortunate heart condition) could provide the 2009-10 team. It was worth it. It was a trade that San Antonio couldn’t lose even if Jefferson bombed fantastically — which, honestly, never was a thought in my mind. Jefferson did bomb in grand fashion and his contract hamstrung the Spurs financial plans for his entire tenure.

In a trade that seemed to good to be true, the Spurs were the unequivocal losers. Milwaukee shredded a ton of cap space. Detroit saved $1.7 million immediately. At least they can hang their hats on that, despite not acquiring anyone important, they didn’t do anything to obstruct their future plans. (In the Spurs’ defense, they could afford to take a gamble because they are adept at building good basketball teams. Milwaukee and Detroit can’t make that claim.)

As you already know, Jefferson didn’t provide San Antonio with a “shot in the arm”. At the tail end of his tenure, Jefferson barely shot the ball at all. His indecisiveness and declining athleticism were a detriment to an otherwise successful Spurs offense. His inability to grasp the sense of the moment and elevate his play in accordance to higher leverage games was maddening.

Jun 06, 2012; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Stephen Jackson (3) reacts against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the game in game six of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 NBA playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Oklahoma City won 107-99. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE

In this sense, he was the perfect foil for Stephen Jackson. Jack, at his best, gave the Spurs with solid on-ball defense and timely 3-pointers. At his worst, he was an aging scorer with a penchant to settle for long 2-pointers. RJ, though, was consistently mediocre. Given the choice between the two options, I’m glad the Spurs acquired Jack.

The tenuous relations between Gregg Popovich and RJ ended when he opted out his contract on June 30, 2010. He was coming off a year where he attempted a mere 9.6 shots per game and shot 31.6% from behind the arc. It was the perfect confluence of events: a 30-year-old swingman with no apparent role on the team opting out of a huge one-year deal for added financial security. Fine. Let him go. He can go search for that contract. But, surely, that team was not going to be San Antonio. An amazing break.

Well, I mean “should’ve” ended. Inexplicably, the nominally astute front office compounded their error by signing Jefferson to a four-year/$39 million extension. (I just threw up in my mouth.) There was no incentive to keep RJ at the point. He proved to be an albatross and, thus, he was a poor fit for the Spurs’ schemes. Give him credit for reinventing his game to the point where he converted on 44% of his 3-pointers during the 2010-11 season.

Call it pride or an irrational belief that he would put it together, whatever. It just was an uncharacteristic move for San Antonio. They built their empire by constructing a team with cost-efficient contracts. For some reason, they threw out caution to the wind and fell for RJ again.

And … yeah. It failed again.

They finally rectified their mistake by flipping RJ and the 29th overall pick in this weeks draft for Jackson. This move was drastically different than it’s predecessors because it actually made a modicum of sense. The RJ Era, unceremoniously, was over. Finally.

And with the move, the Spurs were finally ready to start anew. No more poor decisions especially when one compounds the other. No more. This was one of the few blemishes on the organization. Hopefully it’ll teach them a valuable lesson. I dearly hope so because they squandered their ability to build something more substantial without Jefferson clouding the picture. I guess it could be worse. We could still be subjected to RJ’s indifferent wrath.

Whew. It took them long enough.

***

Performance of the year: Mar. 2, 2012 vs. Charlotte. W 102-72.
The line: 27:58 MIN | 4-8 FG | 2-2 FT | 7 REB | 1 AST | 14 PTS | +16

I was tempted to write that RJ didn’t have a good game in a act of defiance. I chose Jefferson’s modest 14-7-1 line because it was his last impressive performance of San Antonio. Plus, his line was rather insignificant just like the opponent (Charlotte) and his tenure with the Spurs. Insignificant. Underwhelming. Sigh …

Season review: D

Other season reviews: James Anderson | DeJuan Blair | Matt Bonner | Boris Diaw | Tim Duncan | T.J. Ford | Manu Ginobili | Danny Green | Stephen Jackson

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