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For the right price, Jefferson could have been a Net

Jan 7, 2011, 10:43 AM EDT

Richard Jefferson

Richard Jefferson didn’t have to play for the Spurs this season. He didn’t have to accept an offer that would pay him $8.4 million this year to play for the team with the league’s best record. He didn’t have to work personally with one of the best coaches in the NBA over the summer, or agree to play again alongside the premier big man of this NBA generation.

After all, he could have been playing for the New Jersey Nets.

From Al Iannazzone of The Bergen Record:

After Jefferson became a free agent last summer, he wanted to return and help the Nets get back on track. “Having roots there, just respecting the organization and wanting to help bring them back to a level in which they had been accustomed to for most of the [last] decade, I explored that,” Jefferson said. “That was something they really weren’t interested in.”The Nets appreciated everything Jefferson did during his seven years and considered reuniting with the one player who seemingly always wanted to stay with the franchise. But if Jefferson really wanted to rejoin the Nets, he — not his agent — should have called to try to work out a deal.

It’s hard to blame Jefferson for not going the extra mile when the Nets didn’t reciprocate interest, particularly with the Spurs knocking on his door. Additionally, there’s a minor detail that doesn’t really surface in Iannazzone’s story: in order to become a free agent in the first place, Jefferson opted out of a one-year salary of $15.2 million. Best guess is that he didn’t do so with at least some indication that the Spurs would be interested in making it worth his while to do so with a long-term contract, the very kind which Iannazzone acknowledges the Nets would have been reluctant to offer.

The five-year, $50 million offer Jefferson’s agent supposedly sought was awfully high given both Jefferson’s worth and the Nets’ current situation. It should surprise no one that New Jersey didn’t jump at the possibility of inking the aging wing for that sum. However, that’s the cost of prying a competent player away from a contender, apparently (or at least this competent player away from that contender). I’m sure Jefferson would have been compelled to play for the Nets again if he could pull that kind of salary, but it wasn’t in the cards. Jefferson didn’t “really” want to re-join the Nets — at least not to enough to leave the Spurs with the amount they were willing to pay him —  and that’s quite alright.

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