The Stephen Jackson Trade: Pro vs Con

Last night as I made my way home, I got an email from the esteemed silverandblack_davis which simply read:

I'm having buyer's/trader's remorse over the deal for Stephen Jackson. I know you like it, but talk to me.

And I knew that I would be able to help. After all of the coverage we have already done on this transaction (and then some), I had thought that there would be no need for me to chime in on this one. But just like Michael Corleone in the third installment of The Godfather, well ... I'm sure you can finish that line on your own. Anyway, as tends to happen at PtR, we made a back-and-forth out of it. I hope that doesn't surprise you.

"Just when I thought I was out ... they pull me back in."

J.R. Wilco:

Where shall I begin? There are so many things that I could say to you that would help you feel better.

How about we start by looking at the postseason and nothing else. Jefferson has always been a disappointment stretching back to the first time the Nets ever made the Finals, going on to when the Spurs beat them, and then with his time in San Antonio. He's been shooting the ball very poorly lately, which certainly makes it appear that he's preparing for his annual late-April nap. Compare that with Jackson, who has come up huge with a capital H in the playoffs, not only in 2003 when he played in San Antonio, but also in 2007 for Golden State. He will not wilt under pressure. Add to that his willingness to bang with other players for rebounds, and the fact that, when properly motivated, he can play very tough defense.

But beyond all of that, we have PATFO. On top of Richard Jefferson, look at what they gave up to get him: a first round draft pick. They do not give those away thoughtlessly. In knowing how important those picks are to them, we can draw the conclusion that they know his true worth is far more than it appears to be.

I will admit that if Jackson had never spent any time in San Antonio, I would probably not be as optimistic as I am, even with Pop's vote of approval. But you have to know that the extraneous G looks at Jackson and does not see the player that Captain Jack has been for the last few years. He looks at the system that he's been playing in and finds it lacking. He looks at the way they've been unable to motivate him, and he sees their flaws. And he looks at his own team and sees how much of a benefit a player like Steven Jackson could be in his system, knowing what he's capable of as well as anyone because he's coached him before.

silverandblack_davis:

So many things we can knock RJ on, and all the things you said are valid. But the trade for me is like swapping certainty with uncertainty. At least with RJ, we knew what we were going to get -- corner threes, unclutch-ness, a little low on the BBIQ side, average defense, basically average play on all angles. We also knew he was a good teammate, and proved to be a good mentor for Kawhi Leonard.

Now with Jack, we don't know who he is. We knew who he was ... ten years ago. A lot has changed since then. While a player never "forgets" his skills or his style of play, these can be affected by age, and his being on the shelf for the month of March. He's probably out of shape, who knows?

And while I like the toughness and fearlessness he brings, I'm particularly scared of his state of mind, what he's capable of. He's been a ticking time bomb for the better part of the last half-decade. I'm not sure that PATFO can magically rein him in, especially given these two scenarios that could happen:

a) The possibility of him coming off the bench -- Manu will eventually get his starting spot back, or Pop will continue going with Green to keep backup PG duties between Manu and Neal. Leonard will most likely take over the starting SF spot. Will Jack be able to handle that, considering he's used to being a starter?

b) What if he becomes a disruptive force to the development of our young guys, particularly Leonard and *gasp*... Blair? Do you think Jack will take kindly to younger guys having more minutes than him? He's already launched some tirades against Bucks management about how he's more knowledgeable than the rest of the team, including the coaches.

I'm hoping this all works out, but maybe I'm just preparing myself for the eventual (or annual) disappointment.

J.R. Wilco:

Davis, you know how much I respect you and your arguments carry a lot of weight with me, but you just used the word "certainty" about Jefferson like it's a good thing. When I think about the rest of the season and the things I am certain that RJ will do, (play like the invisible man, shoot a lower percentage, evaporate in the playoffs) none of them are positive. Shoot, DrumsInTheDeep joked yesterday that Richard's new nickname should be RJ4.0: now with 100% less RJ! Sure he's a standup guy and the perfect citizen and someone who won't shake things up ever in the slightest possible way, but as we've seen over the last 2+ years, those aren't necessarily things that help you win a playoff series.

As far as the rest of your arguments about Jackson's mental stare are concerned, I think they all fall under a single category that can be listed as "Popovich's Problem." I really hate to oversimplify, but it's pretty safe to say that our coach knows how to deal with the players on his roster. If there is ever any battle of wills, I know who I would have to put my money on- and it's not going to be somebody with a nickname like "Capt. Jack".

Now RC Buford's press conference yesterday didn't do a lot to build my confidence in the priorities PATFO considered in making this deal. (I'd much prefer to hear a general manager glow with optimism in terms of what he expects from a new acquisition.) But I guess I can appreciate the honesty, and it will certainly make it easier to point back to this moment as one that was obviously taken with more trepidation than irrational exuberance.

Davis:

I wasn't trying to make it positive, more like leveling off expectations hence terms like "unclutch-ness, a little low on the BBIQ side". We've all gone through extremes in emotional volatility due to recent playoff failures, and while I see people getting too high on the trade just as almost all of us did when RJ first landed in SA, I just wanted to get to a place where I stay low, so the fall won't be as hard. But after a few hours of sorting my emotions out, I think I figured what really eats at me is indeed Jackson's sketchy past when he was jumping from one team to the next. Forgive me if I'll move away a little from his basketball skills at this point.

I know I don't have any business judging someone's character, but I can't and won't turn a blind eye on what Jack has become to other teams he razed. The past few seasons, I've not only been babied by winning records but also by the PATFO's keen eye to always getting good character guys. So it came as a total shock to me that they would deal for SJ, who wasn't exactly known in the league for being the "ultimate teammate" as Duncan used to describe him. I know people will not worry about this given the perceived stoutness of our locker room and coaching staff, but it's just one of those things. I feel like a professional wrestler who's just finished his WWE-style handshake -- and turns back toward his corner only to have his oppenent whack him over the head with a folding chair.

But really, how much of a difference can a "good environment" make in improving a man's performance or attitude or general disposition? Honestly, I don't know and cannot grasp any examples off the top of my head. But even with the core stars and Pop still here, the Spurs have also changed. Ten years is a very long time, and Stephen is walking into an entirely different situation than when he was first here. Manu and TP have both blossomed into stars, and Tim is past his days as a one-man wrecking crew. You have other new kids roaming around trying to be the next great Spur. Heck, you even got a white guy who shoots threes and loves sandwiches.

And of course Jackson himself has changed a lot. While he's on the more mature side of thirty, you cannot say the same of how he's seemingly gotten worse in handling ugly situations, like a taller version of post-Denver Allen Iverson. Likewise, Captain Jack has never been known to be the sit down and reflect type. His mind seems to be always running around and looking either for redemption or a way out. I'm probably nitpicking now and should totally focus on what he can bring on the court, but he has made for an interesting character study because I am sure one way or another, his disposition will affect his play and ultimately, how we will judge this trade.

Lastly, don't you feel like this trade is looking a little deja vu to that time we got RJ? Even without looking back at the posts then, people immediately threw their faith in the new guy. We even ignored the stats! Sure, it's all part of basketball fandom and it's fun. This might also end up being two entirely different cases. Just that now, I'd rather exercise maximum restraint because I like to believe I'd learned from how RJ messed with our fanhood. I'd also like to think RC agrees with me on this with his pretty held back press con but I'd be happy to be proven wrong.

J.R. Wilco:

"...happy to be proven wrong." Sounds like my work here is pretty much done. But I'll address a few of your concerns first, beginning with the character issue.

It bothers me plenty that we're getting a guy who's become known as one of the main locker room cancers in the league. The fact that he was involved in the Malice at the Palace, and has more than his share of run-ins with the law, these give me plenty of pause. I love the Spurs, in great part, because of the importance character plays in the way they evaluate talent. But I think this is one of those cases where (especially because of the past connection) the exception proves the rule. In one specific situation, at the very least.

Here's what I mean. Ever since Robert Horry retired, the Spurs have lacked a player in the Mario Elie/Kevin Willis mold. A guy who will, when playoff intensity is at it's highest and the other team has started implementing their NO LAYUPS rule, thinks nothing of getting into the face of anyone on the other team and making sure that they know that if Manu hits the floor on a drive, then one of their guys will do the same. And then, later in the game, making a play that looks kind of like retaliation without being obvious enough to start a brawl. In short, we've been a fairly soft team in the playoffs for the last four years. Kurt Thomas, for all we called him Crazy Eyes, just wasn't that guy when it mattered. And I think that has hurt us.

Now, with Jackson, we have a guy who by reputation alone carries the kind of gravitas necessary to make guys think, "What's he gonna do now?" And that is NOT a bad thing to have come playoff time.

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