Jefferson out, Butler up next?

The Richard Jefferson era in San Antonio appears over.

According to an NBA source, the Spurs plan to exercise their one-time amnesty provision on Jefferson’s contract, once that option becomes available to them upon completion of the new collective bargaining agreement.

A source familiar with the thinking of Spurs front office said decision-makers are awaiting to see the language of the finalized amnesty rule before making a final call, but the team is strongly considering jettisoning Jefferson.

The move, first reported by Yahoo! Sports, would wipe from the books the remaining three years of  Jefferson’s contract worth nearly $30.5 million, $9.2 million of which is due this season, and give the Spurs financial freedom to pursue a new starting small forward in free agency.

That  replacement part, in fact, might be already be in San Antonio.

Not long before word of Jefferson’s impending release broke Wednesday, free agent Caron Butler wrapped up a visit in San Antonio his agent, Raymond Brothers, said “went flawlessly.”

“He felt comfortable here,” Brothers said. “I’m waiting for (the Spurs) to call and discuss it. All I can tell you is, he really liked it.”

Though Butler has already visited the Los Angeles Clippers and still plans to visit the New Jersey Nets — two teams that can offer more than the $5 million mid-level exception that will be available to the Spurs after Jefferson is waived — one league source said the Spurs are now considered the front-runner to land him.

Butler has also met with representatives from Chicago, which can also offer only the $5 million mid-level exception. The Spurs are also considering Washington small forward Josh Howard, who visited Tuesday, among other candidates to fill their small-forward void.

One factor that might entice Butler to San Antonio, his agent said, was the chance to play for coach Gregg Popovich. Asked if he believed the Spurs had a strong chance of signing Butler, Brothers said, “Absolutely.”

“He’s not wasting his time,” Brothers said “He’s wasn’t in San Antonio today to be nice.”

Butler, 31, has averaged 16.6 points over nine NBA seasons but had his 2010-11 campaign cut short in Dallas after tearing his right patella tendon on New Year’s Day. Brothers said Butler passed a physical during his visit with the Clippers earlier this week, and will be cleared for full participation in training camp once he signs with a team.

Butler’s decision is expected to come not long after free agency opens Friday. Brothers said he hopes to have Butler in some team’s camp by the weekend.

“We’ve got one stop left (New Jersey),” Brothers said. “Then it will be time to make a decision.”

With Jefferson, the Spurs appear to have already made their decision, although they can’t formalize it until after the CBA is ratified. Though he averaged 11.6 points in two seasons with the Spurs, Jefferson never lived up to the promise that accompanied his breathless 2009 arrival from Milwaukee.

Jefferson was a good soldier and a well-liked member of the Spurs locker room, but a bad fit on the court. His strengths and a floor-running wingman never quite meshed with the Spurs’ style. His career with the Spurs essentially ended at halftime of the team’s Game 6 ouster in Memphis, with Jefferson being benched for the final two quarters.

Casting off Jefferson’s contract under the upcoming amnesty rule would move the Spurs below the luxury tax line and give them extra cash with which to chase his replacement. Jefferson’s future is as unclear, though it is certain he will find a  job somewhere.

Under the new amnesty rules, teams under the salary cap will be allowed to bid for Jefferson’s services, with the difference between his new contract and old one being returned to the Spurs.

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