Richard Jefferson arrived from Milwaukee in the summer of 2009, amid so much hope and promise, bringing with him the belief that he would be the missing piece to the Spurs’ latest championship puzzle.
After two mostly disappointing seasons as the Spurs’ starting small forward, it appears Jefferson will not be around for a third.
According to an source with knowledge of the Spurs’ plans, the team will exercise its one-time amnesty clause to waive Jefferson and free itself from the three years and $30.5 million left on his contract.
The move would nudge the Spurs’ payroll below the luxury-tax threshold and allow them full use of the $5 million mid-level exception in pursuit of a new starting small forward.
Jefferson’s replacement, in fact, might already have been present at Spurs headquarters Wednesday afternoon.
In a development perhaps tied to the decision to dismiss Jefferson, free agent was in San Antonio for a sit-down with general manager and coach that his agent, , said “went flawlessly.”
“The meeting went great,” Butler said Wednesday while waiting to board a flight at . “I enjoyed it.”
Though Butler has already visited the and still plans to sit down with the — two teams under the salary cap who could offer more than the mid-level exception — the Spurs have emerged as a strong contender to land him.
“Absolutely,” Brothers said. “He’s not wasting his time. He wasn’t in San Antonio to be nice.”
Butler has also met with representatives from the , who can offer only the $5 million mid-level exception as well. The Spurs also are considering Washington’s , who visited Tuesday, among other candidates to fill their impending void at the three spot.
The 31-year-old Howard, who in February 2010 was traded from Dallas to the Wizards for Butler, left San Antonio with a positive view of the Spurs’ operation. Like Butler, Howard is also weighing New Jersey and Chicago, and could still return to the Wizards.
“I know San Antonio is an , as far as everything they do,” Howard told the Washington Post on Wednesday. “It’s kind of like a mirror image of Dallas or vice versa. I know everything down there is cool.”
Butler, 6-foot-7, has averaged 16.6 points in nine seasons but had his 2010-11 campaign in Dallas cut short by a torn right patella tendon suffered on New Year’s Day.
With the Mavericks disinclined to offer more than a one-year deal, the 31-year-old Butler is not considering a return to Dallas. One factor that might lure Butler to San Antonio is a chance to play for Popovich, a coach he holds in high esteem, Brothers said.
The agent said Butler’s rebuilt knee passed a physical exam during his visit with the Clippers earlier this week, and he will be cleared for full participation in training camp once he signs with a team.
“We’ve got one stop left (New Jersey),” Brothers said. “Then it will be time to make a decision.”
With Jefferson, the Spurs seem to have already made theirs, although they can’t formalize his departure until the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified. A source with knowledge of the Spurs’ thinking says team decision-makers are waiting to double-check the exact language in the amnesty clause before making a final call.
Jefferson’s agent, , declined comment Wednesday.
For Jefferson, who signed a four-year, $39 million deal before last season and is scheduled to make a pro-rated $9.2 million in the shortened season to come, amnesty will mark an inglorious end to a tumultuous Spurs tenure. Yet it also offers the prospect of a much-needed fresh start.
Jefferson, 31, was a good soldier and a well-liked member of the Spurs’ locker room but a poor fit on the court. He averaged 11.6 points in two seasons and in 2010-11 shot a career-best 44 percent from 3-point range, but his uptempo strengths never quite meshed with the Spurs’ style.
Once waived, Jefferson — who signed a four-year, $39 million deal before last season and is due a pro-rated $9.2 million for the shortened season to come — will still be paid every cent he’s owed. His salary just won’t count against the Spurs’ payroll for tax and salary-cap purposes.
After amnesty, under the new CBA Jefferson’s rights will be auctioned off to the highest bidder, with teams under the salary cap given first crack. If a team claims Jefferson off waivers, the value of his new contract would be deducted from the amount the Spurs still owe him.