RJ remains, but for how long?

By Jeff McDonald

Richard Jefferson walked off the floor after the first practice of training camp Friday, took one look at the assembled media horde waiting for him and smiled.

“I feel like I just got traded here,” Jefferson joked.

Only 72 hours earlier, Jefferson’s Spurs career had been fitted for a toe tag. The Spurs had all but decided to exercise their one-time amnesty provision on him, prepared to offer him a handshake, a ticket out of town and several million dollars to chase other small forwards on the free-agent market.

The Spurs still could do all of the above.

But for now — and with that being the key phrase — Jefferson began his third Spurs training camp in the same manner he’d opened the previous two: as the team’s apparent starter at small forward.

“Things could happen, or things could stay the same,” said Jefferson, 31. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m a Spur right now.”

Jefferson, of course, has heard the rampant speculation that he was not long for the Spurs. Earlier this week, he was telling teammates that team officials had informed him he would be waived.

Then, the Spurs came up short in pursuit of their top free-agent target when Caron Butler agreed to a more lucrative offer from the Los Angeles Clippers. Grant Hill decided to return for one more go-round in Phoenix.

The Spurs appear to have little interest in pursuing 35-year-old Vince Carter, who was waived by the Suns on Friday in a cost-cutting manuever and is likely headed to Dallas.

The Spurs remain in the hunt for Washington’s Josh Howard, 31, who is still weighing interest from Chicago, New Jersey, Washington, Utah and Denver, according to a member of his camp, but hopes to decide early next week.

“San Antonio is still very much in the discussions with Josh and his agent (Derek Lafayette),” said Howard’s publicist, Crystal Howard (no relation). “A decision has not been made yet, but he’s certainly considering San Antonio as his new home.”

The Spurs would prefer a resolution sooner rather than later. They have until Dec. 16 to waive Jefferson if they plan to use amnesty on him this season, but are unlikely to do so unless a suitable replacement is found.

If the Spurs don’t use amnesty now, they could keep that card in their pocket until the summer, when the free agent crop should be substantially deeper.

For now, Jefferson remains in limbo, employed by a team that has been openly shopping for his substitute. He averaged 11.6 points in two seasons in San Antonio, and last season shot a career-best 44 percent from 3-point range, but seemed like a poor fit in the Spurs’ system.

Asked if he felt unwanted in San Antonio, Jefferson — who has three years and $30.5 million left on the deal he signed in July 2010 — said the answer was unimportant.

“We’re not little kids, where we want to feel wanted and hugged,” Jefferson said. “You want to work and enjoy your environment, not necessarily to feel wanted. You can feel wanted in a situation you don’t want to be in.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he expects Jefferson will remain professional, whether he’s with the team for another week or another season.

“He’s got a job to do,” Popovich said. “He’s a Spur just like Timmy (Duncan) or Manu (Ginobili) or (new signee) T.J. Ford or anybody else.”

In his role as team captain, Duncan likewise saw no need to engage in damage control with Jefferson.

“He’s a professional, and I don’t think any one of us knows what is going to happen with that,” Duncan said. “It’s all rumors until something happens.”

And so Jefferson will continue to show up at the Spurs practice facility everyday, until somebody tells him not to.

“I’m a Spur right now,” Jefferson said, repeating himself. “That’s pretty much the best way to describe it.”

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