The case against trading Stephen Jackson


I’ve been on a kick the last two or three months about the plethora of options Stephen Jackson’s contract unlocks. It’s become a minor obsession of mine (a totally healthy one). And while I do think dealing Jack for a big who can defend the pick-and-roll and/or protect the rim could make the Spurs better in the long run and possibly improve whatever title chances they have, all is not lost if they keep him.

It’s clear from the first few days of media access that one of the points of emphasis for the Spurs defensively is physicality. I wouldn’t venture to call the Spurs of the recent past “soft,” that’s a harsh thing to label a team in professional sports these days, but you wouldn’t think of them as a team that will punish you either. This season, it seems the Spurs are trying to move more in the direction of the latter.

“Buy-in more, be a more physical team, don’t give up layups, we need to be a more physical team,” Jackson said after practice yesterday.

Though he’s not a physically imposing figure on the Spurs roster, it seems the team will be taking their lead from Jack during training camp.

“Tony came to me and said ‘Jack, I’m gonna have more fire this year.'”

More than anything Jack does on the court, this could be the most important. I’ve been watching a lot of the Western Conference Finals the last two weeks, and it’s clear that Jack was the most physical player out on the perimeter. He was constantly bodying-up to Kevin Durant when KD was trying to make his way around the perimeter. We’re talking things like preventing him from getting hand-offs and not letting him take the angle he wanted to take on screens

Certainly that runs the risk of getting important players in foul trouble, what with the lack of physical contact allowed out on the perimeter in today’s NBA, but in big games where the outcome is usually decided by just a handful of points, any possession where the offense doesn’t get free reign becomes important.

With these Spurs, this has become Jack’s identity. He’s the guy who brings the physicality, the attitude, the swashbuckling nature. That kind of presence can infect those around him, but he can’t transfer it to them. If Jack gets traded, the Spurs likely lose that characteristic. More often you read and hear players complain about what they lost in terms of attitude and confidence when a player is shipped off. Rarely do you hear, “We traded him and [some other player] took over as the irrational confidence guy.”

Jack had some big moments in the Western Conference Finals last season and made us all remember why we loved him the first time around (as if we ever forgot). A trade may still be a possibility, but for now this team will try to mold itself somewhat in his image.

  • Guest

    Jack is a Spur. End of story. There’s not many “nice” guys that will simply kick your ass – but Jack is one of them. His fire is more important than his shot or defense. He’s a real leader and I think he fits very well. Plus, as Tim said, he gives us “street cred.”

  • phillip mabry

    Jack is a Spur. End of story. The man really needs to end his career here or all will not be right with the basketball world.

  • Jon Richey

    I was in the building when Stephen Jackson hit those big shots in game 6 of the ’03 Finals. He will be one of my favorites forever.

  • mac

    I agree that though what Jack brings in terms of “filling a need” is debatable (we have more perimeter depth than we can actually use), he brings a less tangible leadership that in sum means it would be nearly impossible to improve this team by trading him. He is the “anti-RJ” after all. It just doesn’t look like that long interior defender is out there for us, so we have to go with what we have, and look for Tiago and Diaw too improve defensively, while Green and KL make significant improvements as well.

    Outside of Varejao, Horford, or Josh Smith, I can’t even imagine who would help, and we aren’t getting any of those guys back for Jackson. But I am disappointed that we didn’t land Lorbek… what happened? I think he would have been an upgrade over Matty, as a nice bench player to play alongside Splitter, and could’ve had actual value in the playoffs over some years to come. In absense of an infusion of defensive talent, If we could’ve kept our offense humming in those last four games things would’ve been less painful for the Silver and Black, I am sure. Was it question of money? How much did he sign for overseas?

  • Ryan

    So was I!!! lol it was incredible

  • Joe Leandro

    Everyones talking about finding a defensive big to play next to Timmy yet everyone seems to ignore the prodigious rebounding SF we have. I though last year Kawhi would play the 4 more but he had enough to learn in a shortened season. With a training camp under his belt Kawhi at the 4 fixes any pick and roll issus, will rebound adequately for a 4 man and will at the very least approximate Bonners offensive production. Keeping Jax is a must.

  • Andrew A. McNeill

    I am in support of Kawhi playing more smallball 4, I’m actually working on a post about it, but that doesn’t solve all the issues. Ideally, you still want another big capable of defending the pick-and-roll when Kawhi has to guard a Kevin Durant, LeBron James or someone of a similar ilk.

  • Brandon Burkhart

    When it comes to showing up in the playoffs, one Stephen Jackson is worth 10 Matt Bonners and 20 Richard Jeffersons.

  • ThatBigGuy

    Jackson is equally valuable as a player and a contract, which makes him quite the luxury. His expiring salary is big enough to be the corner piece in a trade for a big with a underachieving team who needs some cap relief. His contract is also great as an expiring for us because he frees up money to potentially re-sign Splitter next summer.

    On the other hand, he’s gives the normally blase’ Spurs an edge and swagger that’s immediately noticeable to Spurs fans. He’ll be an occasional momentum changer, a consistent technical foul receiver, and constant team fire starter. When Tim steps on the court, his teammates relax and calm down because they know Tim’s got them. When Jack steps on the floor, his teammates get amped up, because they know he’s about to bring some serious intensity for 6-8 minutes and they better match it.

  • Graham

    Actually he does fill a fairly accute need, he is our only other legit 3, and not to mention is great to play bigger minutes if we go smallball with Kawhi at the 4. Any trade involving him would need to net us at least a passable 3 in addition to our main objective to keep our lack of depth at the 3 from being an issue. He is the penultimate bench 3 for us, and I am loathe to lose what he brings to the table for us.

  • ali

    that’s when you have Captain Jack defending them or playing the 4. I know he is past his prime but Cap Jack has been succeesful playing the 4 before. i.e. against the mavs


    I’ve contended all summer that unless the Spurs can get a player of the caliber of Josh Smith for Jackson + other tantalizing pieces via a trade, they would be better served to keep Jackson for his experience, toughness and expiring for themselves.

    Nice post Andrew.

  • rogerv

    My most vivid recollection of the last four games of the NBA semis was how lost the Spurs looked — veterans and younger players alike — as each game slipped away. The only Spur who played like every game could be won was Stephen Jackson.

    Jackson brings some intangibles to the Spurs beyond his stats or his height. He played hard at both ends of the court in the OKC series. He played with confidence whether he was playing with the first team or leading the younger players in the second unit. He played with intensity even in the waning minutes of the final game. Jackson got the appropriate number of fouls in the series — many on judgment calls — that go against someone who isn’t playing “soft” and letting opponents get easy baskets.

    LeBron James played that leadership role in the finals, showing the opponents and his teammates that even when the opponents surged, his team could come back. Of course Jackson isn’t LeBron in ability, but Jackson never gave up in the semis.

    Usually, battle-worn veterans in the twilight of their career, don’t — or can’t — give that kind of effort. The posts keep talking about Jackson’s “swagger.” But what Jackson showed me in the OKC series isn’t so much swagger, but confidence, courage and leadership. It’s the kind of effort and courage that a veteran needs to display and hopefully instill in future Spurs stars like Brown, Green, Splitter and Mills. I don’t know if any of these guys will ever have swagger, but they could improve their confidence and courage. Jackson’s example will help the young Spurs trust their ability in trying times. I don’t think players learn confidence and courage from coaches. They only learn these traits by modeling other players….like Jackson.

  • Jon Richey

    I screamed myself hoarse!