Spurs flirting with free-agent small forwards

At some point today, Richard Jefferson is expected to report to the Spurs’ practice facility for a pre-training camp physical exam. If he times his visit just right, he might bump into a couple of players auditioning to replace him.

According to multiple reports, free-agent small forwards Caron Butler and Josh Howard are scheduled to be in town today to hear recruiting pitches from Spurs general manager R.C. Buford and other team officials.

For Jefferson, for now still the Spurs’ starting small forward, it could mean a change of address is imminent. Or it could mean nothing at all.

Butler, 31, averaged 15 points in 29 games for Dallas last season, which ended prematurely when he ruptured his right patella tendon on New Year’s Day in Milwaukee.

Howard, like Butler, is 31 with a recent history of knee problems. He averaged a career-low 8.4 points in 18 games with Washington while recovering from an ACL tear sustained the year before.

The Spurs’ apparent fascination with free-agent small forwards — the team is also believed to be interested in Washington’s Maurice Evans, former New Jersey swingman Bostjan Nachbar and Phoenix’s Vince Carter, should the Suns waive him — gives rise to natural speculation about Jefferson’s future in San Antonio.

To get either Butler or Howard, the Spurs would likely need to clear enough payroll to trigger full use of the $5 million mid-level exception. The most obvious way to get there would be to waive Jefferson under the NBA’s forthcoming amnesty provision, wiping his nearly $9.3 million off the rolls.

His pay having outstripped production since a ballyhooed arrival in the summer of 2009, Jefferson would seem a prime candidate for amnesty.

He has averaged 11.6 points in two seasons, and though he did shoot a career-best 44 percent from beyond the 3-point arc in 2010-11, he was benched for the entire second half of the Spurs’ Game 6 ouster in Memphis.

Yet it is far from certain the Spurs will opt for amnesty with Jefferson. It might make more sense for them to wait until the summer to waive Jefferson, when Tim Duncan’s nearly $21.2 million will also come off the books, giving the Spurs a deeper war chest with which to chase a more bountiful 2012 free-agent crop.

The Spurs could also look to find a trade partner for Jefferson, though they might have to search far and wide to find a willing taker for the three years and nearly $30.5 million left on his deal.

It is also possible, and perhaps probable, Jefferson opens this season in the same place he began the last two — as the Spurs’ starting small forward.

Whatever the Spurs’ intentions are, they should become clearer in the coming days.

Teams cannot begin signing free agents until Friday. With training camps across the league allowed to open the same day, there will be urgency to fill out the roster.

“(We’re) trying to decide who we want to sign and what free agents to go after, and do we want to make any trades?” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “That’s the emphasis between now and training camp opening. For all teams, really, because everybody’s got to put their team together.”

If the Spurs aim to land either Butler or Howard, they will face competition.

Butler met with representatives from Chicago and the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday, and will head to New Jersey and possibly Detroit after departing San Antonio. Disinclined to offer more than a one-year deal, Dallas remains a longshot to retain Butler.

In addition to the Spurs, Howard is also scheduled to meet with Chicago, New Jersey and Washington, which still harbors hope of bringing him back.

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