1:16pm: Jefferson elaborated on his thinking, making his decision seem even more set in stone. “I’ve got unfinished business here,” Jefferson said when asked whether he’d opt out, as Bonnell relays via Twitter. “That’s not even an option for me.”
12:10pm: Al Jefferson said today that it’s highly unlikely he’ll turn down his $13.5MM player option for next season, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer (Twitter link). Most formal decisions on options aren’t due until June 29th, but the news is nonetheless a blow for teams in the market for a big man this summer. The 30-year-old Jefferson is the 14th-ranked free agent in the latest Hoops Rumors Free Agent Power Rankings one year removed from a career season.
Jefferson regressed this year amid injuries, but he still played in 65 games and averaged 16.6 points and 8.4 rebounds in 30.6 minutes per game. He was only the third leading scorer for Charlotte, but he nonetheless remains a key part of the Hornets, and coach Steve Clifford expressed continued faith in the 11-year veteran, saying it’s not a given that he’ll continue to struggle with injuries, Bonnell tweets. Owner Michael Jordan indicated before this season that he’d want to keep Jefferson if he elected free agency, given the chance the big man took when he signed with a downtrodden Charlotte team in 2013.
Should Jefferson indeed opt in this year, the Jeff Schwartz client would be positioning himself to hit free agency just as the salary cap rises sharply after next season. It’s a gamble that he’d have a bounce-back performance in 2015/16 and that teams wouldn’t look askance at his advancing age.
An opt in from Jefferson would give the Hornets almost $60MM in commitments against a projected $67.4MM salary cap, not counting Gerald Henderson‘s $6MM player option. The team will likely be limited to the mid-level and biannual exceptions to pay free agents more than the minimum, but Clifford doesn’t think the Hornets need to make a splashy upgrade, as Bonnell relays (on Twitter). “We’re not in a position to get a max-level player. Nor do we need to,” Clifford said today.