A few days ago, on the Spurs roundup post, Cap linked to a 48MOH story titled "The case against trading Stephen Jackson" in which the always great Andrew McNeill made the case for keeping Stephen Jackson throughout the season. He mentions that if a trade is available, pulling the trigger might be wise, but the Spurs shouldn't despair if they can't find takers. You should read it if you haven't already, but it comes down to this:
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."
So the Spurs lacked physicality and a killer instinct, and Jack has that in spades. Even if you don't buy completely into thinking that's all the Spurs are missing, having Jackson is a plus when it comes to defensive intensity. And that's not even considering that fact that there are very few, if any, better back up small forwards in the league right now. I get that. But it is not enough.
The Spurs have Manu Ginobili at the 2 and a potential budding star in Kawhi Leonard at the 3. They have a lot of other guards in the roster already. Playing time will be hard to come by, but let's say Jack gets the bulk of SF minutes, a few SG minutes and a few PF minutes in small ball lineups. Pencil him in for 23 minutes a game back up role; that is the one he had last season, and one in which I believe he can excel at on both sides of the ball.
On the other hand, the Spurs are missing a big that can defend the P&R, protect the rim, and ideally, hit a mid-range jumper. If they were to get such a player, he would likely star and have a huge role, taking away most of Blair and Bonner's minutes and potentially some of Diaw's. The Spurs would effectively be trading 20 minutes of solid wing production off the bench for a player that, in this scenario, instantly becomes a key rotation fixture with a unique skill set. Now, if not having Jackson created another hole as big, the move would be lateral, at best. The difference is, big men that can defend at a high level are much harder to come by than an acceptable back up wing with good intangibles. As important as Jackson may be, he is not irreplaceable.
In the playoffs, Jackson could go from a 20 minutes a game backup to a 30 minutes a game key rotation player. The problem would be that it likely signifies the rest of the wings are struggling. It would mean Green pulled another disappearing act, and the Spurs still don't have an answer to small ball lineups. Lost in Jackson's amazing performance against OKC is the fact that the team was eliminated because they needed that type of performance from Jack. If Tony, Manu and Tim were able to assert their will, and the role players were actually hitting their shots and defending well, the Spurs would not have needed Jackson to hit 64% on a considerable amount of three-pointers in order for the team as a whole to hit the 40% mark in that category. Jackson's long range accuracy and defensive tenacity stood out because most of the other role players failed at providing them.
Ideally, the Spurs would keep Jackson and trade someone else - someone who, for whatever reason, has not been able to produce in the playoffs - for that mythical defensive big. The problem is Jack's contract is the Spurs' best, and likely only, shot at getting that guy. We all know you have to give up something good to get something good in return. Someone might point out the infamous Gasol trade as proof that miracles sometimes happen, but the reason that case stands out is because it was so unlikely.
I'm not saying the Spurs should look to trade Jackson for just anyone; panic trades brought us Richard Jefferson, after all. I also agree with McNeill that all is not lost if the Spurs cannot pull off a trade. No, the Spurs are not doomed if Jackson is on the team past the trade deadline. In fact, they will likely be better than they were last season, which might be enough to get to the Finals if the other Western powerhouses can't play to their full potential. But for the Spurs to up their ceiling to match those of the Lakers and Thunder, a move will need to be made. No one wants to see a player that has produced as expected shipped off to fill a hole created by others that have not, but that is how this business often works. If the Spurs make a move to shore up their weaknesses, it will almost certainly include Jackson. The sooner we accept that, the less it will sting if it happens. As self evident and borderline condescending as that sounds, I thought I would put it in writing just in case you are like me and have been trying to rationalize how a trade like this could happen.