Jackson’s absence doesn’t factor in Spurs win over Kings

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AT&T CENTER — After sputtering to a 5-5 record over their last 10 games and losing several key players to injuries, including Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw, the San Antonio Spurs entered an increased level of tension when the team waived forward Stephen Jackson before Friday night’s game against the Sacramento Kings.

Watching San Antonio’s 108-101 victory over the Kings, however, you wouldn’t have figured the Spurs had a care in the world outside of executing on the next play.

I was afforded the opportunity to sit in the courtside press area for the first time since preseason and what I saw was a team going about business as usual. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich joked with Tony Parker as another Spur shot free throws in the first quarter. Pop drew a laugh from Gary Neal as he sent Neal to the scorer’s table to check in. Tim Duncan and Pop had a back-and-forth coming out of a timeout that left both with smiles on their faces.

I don’t know how often Pop jokes with players over the course of a typical game, again this was the first time in several months that I had watched a game this close, but the mood around the team didn’t seem like one of a group going through a rough patch.

It felt like another day at the office for the Spurs. And a Friday at that.

“Players play,” Popovich said matter-of-factly after the game. “They just move on and play.”

The Spurs did move on and showed what happens when your best player returns to the lineup. Having been without Tony Parker since the loss to Oklahoma City last Thursday, San Antonio posted a 107.7 offensive rating against the Kings, much closer to their 106.5 offensive rating for the season. Without Parker, the Spurs had posted ratings of 88.2 and 100.2 against the Denver Nuggets and Atlanta Hawks, respectively.

“Tony was spectacular,” Pop said. “Starting the game he probably would’ve had 1,000 assists, but nobody could make a shot.”

With Stephen Jackson gone, the Spurs faced questions about who would occupy the vacated backup small forward position. It’s hard to draw conclusions from just one night of action, but it looks like Danny Green is the man for the job.

Pop altered his rotations just so against the Kings so that the Spurs didn’t play a single minute without either Green or Kawhi Leonard, who finished with 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting, on the floor. Green checked out of the game at the 5:33 mark of the first quarter. He checked back in for Leonard with 1:31 left in the quarter. And so the dance went.

This shouldn’t surprise us. Kawhi has recovered nicely from his quadriceps tendonitis earlier in the season and seems capable of playing 40+ minutes come playoff time. That leaves about eight minutes a game, give or take a few (depending on any small ball 4 Leonard plays), for someone to spell Kawhi.

“That’s Kawhi’s position and he plays a lot of minutes,” Pop said. “We want him to play 35-40 minutes a game.

“He’s a heck of a player and he needs minutes, so he’s going to get them.”

That doesn’t leave a lot for others, including those who may have been unhappy with how much playing time they were getting. But it’s the natural progression for Leonard’s development and between Green and a healthy Manu Ginobili, the Spurs should have enough cover for the time Leonard needs rest.

Cutting ties with Jackson came at an inopportune time for San Antonio, both in regards to the past few weeks and the season ahead, but if one game proves anything, the Spurs will go about business as usual.

Advanced stats and lineup data courtesy of NBA.com/Stats

  • Blofeld

    If Jack has been unhappy for so long, why didn’t they trade him at the deadline? Is there any possibility the team adds a player to the roster this late in the season? A Toro call up perhaps?

  • Heywood Jablomy

    so what? the kings suck. We will miss Jax in the playoffs.

  • Titletown99030507d

    Whats worse for Jackson pop waited to release him after March 1st and now even if a playoff team picks him up he’s ineligible to participate in any NBA games. Nice one pop.

  • Andrew G

    OMggggggg Kobe’s out, NOW I want that freaking 1 seed! The playoff race in the West is changing daily, it’s great to watch unfold. I’m giddy to have Tony back, we needed a win like this against a young opponent that would at least try and push us around a bit. Momentum…

    It was definitely surprising to hear Boris having surgery AND the release of Jackson, it looks like we’re putting all our eggs into the Kawhi basket, as we should. He’s earned his minutes and any extra playing time come this postseason is only going to make him that much better.

    I can’t feel too bad for Jackson, I think for Pop to release him at this point in the season, Jackson must’ve really been pushing his buttons. Jackson seemed more like a liability than an asset at this point. Outside of the couple Pop has gotten this season, I’m not sure anyone on our roster has acquired any number of technicals besides Jackson. You gotta love his aggression and passion for the game, but with the paycheck he was getting (10+ million!), I feel like we should’ve been getting more than just his mediocre play and loud mouth.

    On that same note, if we’d made it this far together, and paid most of his salary already, why not see it through? I guess the costs were starting to outweigh the benefits in Pop’s mind, and something he said or did must’ve drastically tipped the scale outside of Jack’s favor for Pop to pull a move this late in the season. He was definitely a fan favorite, but as we’ve seen in the past, team players win championships for the Spurs, not egos.

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  • JImbo

    Has it occurred to you that Jackson’s actions after the trade deadline may have factored into the decision to waive him? Do you have any evidence that Popovich was trying to screw Jackson over, or are you just bloviating per the usual?

  • New_Mexico_Spurs_Fan

    The reason that the Spurs are the best franchise in sports, is that they operate based on the long-term, and the big picture. I would rather go out in the 1st round than win w/ a player like Jack who hasn’t, and won’t buy into the program.