Putting handles on the Jefferson/Jack trade
It wasn’t Richard Jefferson’s fault.
When the Spurs first traded for Richard Jefferson, it looked like a great deal on paper. The front office and coaching staff saw RJ as someone who could help carry the scoring load, defend the wing, and, perhaps, provide Popovich with a few new offensive wrinkles, such as giving him a wing to use in the post.
It never really worked out.
To Jefferson’s credit, he worked at it. He spent the better part of his first full summer with the Spurs refining his game, drilling with the coaches, and rebuilding his jump shot. He added years to his career (and helped the Spurs) by transitioning away from an athletic wing to a dead eye three point threat. Jefferson has shot .440 and .421 from the arc since his summer of rehab.
But still, Richard Jefferson’s contract is too expensive. And his place in the system is too underwhelming.
It’s never been a good fit.
Will Stephen Jackson help? Yes and no.
Off the Court
The 11 million I just referenced comes from losing the last year of Richard Jefferson’s current deal. And the Spurs won’t have a rookie contract to payroll this summer, which helps too. In the summer of 2013, the Spurs could have a cap number just north of 30 million. This coincides perfectly with the new CBA—the market on players should dramatically re-price itself in 2013 and it appears the Spurs will have significant leverage on that market.
This is nothing short than a transparent rebuilding strategy. But, unlike most rebuilding strategies, the Spurs will enjoy the privilege of contending right up to the moment the team decides to begin again. It’s beautiful that way, don’t you think?
Look to the Spurs to offer Duncan an eight figure contract for next season, but I suspect they keep their options open for 2013. In order to do this, the Spurs might overpay Duncan by front loading his next deal.
Jackson, for what it’s worth, will make a nice expiring contract next season, especially after Kawhi Leonard has the benefit of a directed offseason and a proper training camp. This has obvious implications for San Antonio’ long term cap strategy.
On the Court
Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are the winners here. Their playing time will increase. The Spurs’ willingness to trade Richard Jefferson is also a clear indicator that the Spurs are significantly invested in Kawhi Leonard. And why not? Look at his splits for the last three months.
Stephen Jackson will play more of a limited role than many fans expect. He’s a great fit for the Spurs in terms of guile and moxie, but he is unquestionably on the decline. The Spurs love wings that are positionally versatile on offense and defense. Captain Jack can defend multiple positions, and he can play multiple positions on offense, including advancing the ball and running as a small four. Jackson is a great fit for Popovich’s system.
Jackson provides the Spurs with more size in their backcourt and insurance in the event of another Manu Ginobili injury. All wins.
The Spurs will miss Richard Jefferson. It’s been awhile since Jackson has played for Popovich, and he will have something of a learning curve, even if it’s only a re-acclimation curve. But beyond that, Jefferson is a vastly superior three point shooter. It’s not only a question of percentages (.421 vs. .278), it’s also a question of shot selection. Jefferson is more disciplined than Jackson, to put it mildly.
I like Jackson. This is a good deal. It’s just better long term than short term; it’s better off the court than on it. I wouldn’t call it a push, but neither is Jackson a sure bet to make the Spurs better this season.
The biggest question I have from this trade is whether Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard are ready for the playoffs?
Beyond that, there is only the question of who else the Spurs will add to their roster between now and the postseason. This trade is not the sort of thing that pushes the Spurs to the front of the championship contention line. They still need to add a player to their frontcourt.
The sneakiest and perhaps most important short term aspect of this trade was the inclusion of T.J. Ford. The Spurs’ roster is now at 12. They have no choice but to add another player to the team (league requires at least 13), as you see from today’s stopgap Eric Dawson 10-day. Dawson won’t last.
Who will the Spurs target? It’s certain they will look at Ronny Turiaf and Boris Diaw (assuming both become free agents), but Buford and company are probably hoping names like Antwan Jamison and Chris Kaman make their way onto the market.
If the Spurs are able to add a rotation quality big to their rotation yet this season, San Antonio should be favored in the West.