The prodigal son has returned to San Antonio. Unless you've been in a taqueria that lacks internet access, you know that the San Antonio Spurs have traded Richard Jefferson, TJ Ford and a first round draft pick to the Golden State Warriors for Stephen Jackson. The trade was consummated less than an hour before the trade deadline. The reaction to the trade has been overwhelmingly favorable -- by both fanbases.
Let's take a closer look at this trade to figure out all the ramifications.
What was San Antonio's main motivation in making this deal?
While Pop has always been a fan of Stephen Jackson, this trade wasn't about acquiring the controversial swingman. The main reason the Spurs made this trade was to save money. Jackson's contract calls for him to be paid $10,059,750 next season. On the other hand, Jefferson is to be paid $10,164,000 next season and $11,046,000 in 2013-14. By making this trade, the Spurs basically erase the $11 million they owed Jefferson two seasons from now.
The Spurs are also saving a little bit of money this year. While Jefferson and Jackson are due to make virtually the same amount of money this season, the Spurs also included TJ Ford's contract (~$684,000) in the trade. By doing so, San Antonio doesn't have to pay the remainder of Ford's contract, plus they are off the hook for the corresponding luxury tax payment. That's an additional savings of about $1 million, which pushes the grand total savings up to approximately $12 million.
What was Golden State's motivation?
First of all, Jackson had burned his bridge back to Golden State after demanding a trade from the team a few years ago. When the Warriors reacquired Jackson in the Andrew Bogut trade earlier this week, there was no way they were going to bring back Jackson.
While the Warriors could have simply bought out Jackson's contract, the organization was already feeling a bit of a backlash for trading Monta Ellis for a player (Bogut) who is probably out for the rest of the season. That meant Golden State was in a position where they had to trade Jackson. And because of the large amount of money owed to him next season and his poor play this season, the market was severely limited.
By turning Jackson into Jefferson, the Warriors see it as getting a solid role player who has proven to be reliable over the years. He's also a professional who will seamlessly fit in any lockerroom. On top of that, the Warriors get a first round draft pick in a year in which they may lose their own pick (they owe it to the Jazz unless the pick is in the top seven).
Jefferson won't help the Warriors win any games. Have they watched him play? Are they smoking that Cali greenery?
Well, first of all, Jefferson will probably help. He's a below average NBA player at this point but he still has some value. But even if he doesn't help Golden State win games, that's actually a good thing. They currently have the 11th worst record in the NBA. To have a chance of keeping their protected first round pick, they need to finish with at least the seventh worst record. In other words, the Warriors need to lose games ASAP.
Speaking of draft picks, why did the Spurs have to include a first rounder to complete this trade?
Since the Warriors are taking on so much more salary in this trade, they obviously insisted on the inclusion of the draft pick. And honestly, the Spurs got great value for the first rounder. Historically, late first rounders are worth approximately $3 million. In this trade, the Spurs swapped their first round pick for the ability to shed $12 million. To put that in perspective, the Clippers traded the draft pick to the Cavs that became number one overall pick Kyrie Irving in order to save approximately $10 million.
What if the Spurs fall flat on their face and miss the playoffs? Could they be trading away a lottery pick?
No. Reports indicate that the draft pick going to the Warriors is lottery protected. That means the Spurs get to keep it if they miss the playoffs.
I thought TJ Ford was going to stick around the Spurs after retiring recently. What happened?
Nothing. This trade doesn't change Ford's status with the team. His contract was just included in the trade to save some cash. The Warriors will either waive him or let him officially retire. (Ford didn't technically retire while with the Spurs, he only took a leave of absence. Look for that to change in the next few days.)
What happened to the plan of amnestying Jefferson's contract this summer so the Spurs could open up salary cap space?
If the Spurs amnestied Jefferson's contract this summer, they could have opened up around $15 million in salary cap space. However, that plan was missing one vital aspect: Tim Duncan's next contract. Theoretically, Duncan could have taken a small contract and the Spurs could have still had sizable room under the cap, but recent reports indicated that wasn't going to happen. In fact, the reports state the Spurs will open negotiations with Duncan this summer at around $12 million per season.
Even if Duncan took that opening offer, the Spurs would have been down to around $3 million. And that's not accounting for a re-signed Danny Green or anyone else. So while the Spurs might have had a little bit of salary cap space by holding onto Jefferson's contract and amnestying him, we're talking about a relatively small amount.
After this trade, what will the Spurs have to work with this upcoming summer?
Ginobili, Parker, Jackson, Splitter, Bonner, Leonard, Blair, Neal and Joseph are on the books for about $49 million. Once the Spurs re-sign Duncan, they will undoubtedly exceed the salary cap, which is expected to be approximately $58 million. Thus, the Spurs can freely re-sign their own free agents (namely Duncan, Green and maybe Anderson) and then have the MLE at their disposal, which starts at $5 million and can be up to four years in length.
In subsequent seasons, there will be opportunities to open up a lot of salary cap room. The contracts for Ginobili and Jackson expire in the summer of 2013. If the Duncan and the Spurs opt for only a one-year deal in the offseason, the Spurs could have a mountain of salary cap space that summer. At that point, the only Spur under contract for a noteworthy sum would be Parker at $12.5 million.
Alright, let's talk basketball. In what ways will the Spurs miss Jefferson?
A lot of the Spurs success this season can be tied to the fact that they lead in the NBA in three-point shooting at around 40%. Jefferson has been a big part of that marksmanship. Last season, he shot 44% from deep. This year, he has proven last season wasn't a fluke by shooting 42.1% from beyond the arc.
Jefferson is also one of the least turnover-prone players in the league and his willingness to take a backseat on the offensive end could be viewed as a strength. And while he wasn't always motivated, the small forward was capable of playing above average defense.
It should also be noted that Jefferson was extremely reliable; he missed only two games in his three seasons with the Spurs.
Will Jackson be able to fill those holes left by Jefferson's departure?
Not exactly. While Jackson is a three-point shooter, he's not a very accurate one. He hasn't shot better than 34% from downtown since the 2007-08 season. And limiting turnovers isn't a strength for Jackson. In fact, he has been one of the most turnover happy wings of the last decade. It's also to be seen how willing he will be to take a secondary role. For much of the recent past, Jackson has been either Option 1 or Option 1B on the teams he has been on.
Defensively, Jackson is at least equal to Jefferson. Throughout their careers, I'd say Jackson has been superior to Jefferson on that end of the court. However, Jackson has been much less reliable health-wise, having missed games due to various injuries over the years. This season, he has complained of a back injury and a hamstring injury.
How can Jackson help the Spurs win games?
Defensively, Jackson has a higher ceiling than Jefferson. He's more versatile, more physical and more apt to make a game-changing play. Though he's also more likely to make a mistake on that end of the court, the good should outweigh the bad.
On offense is where Jackson has the ability to really help. Compared to Jefferson, Jackson is a much better ballhandler, passer and playmaker, plus he has a better and more natural feel for the game. With Ford forced into retirement, those traits are even more valuable to these Spurs.
Spurs fans will mention Jackson's ability to come up big in big moments and I believe that shouldn't be understated. Jackson has championship experience and a history of not shrinking when the going gets tough. On a team with championship aspirations, those traits are definitely a plus.
Are there risks to this trade basketball-wise?
Honestly, I don't think the loss of Jefferson is much of a game-changer. He wasn't horrible but he wasn't much of an asset these days. But the main reason the trade shouldn't hurt too much basketball-wise is the emergence of Kawhi Leonard. Since the All-Star break, Leonard had become a much better player than Jefferson. Leonard soaking up more of Jefferson's minutes is a good thing. Plus, with the return of Ginobili, Green is available to play more minutes … and he's reasonably close to Jefferson's level these days.
As far as Jackson is concerned, there some legit concerns. Among them:
-Is he healthy? How's his conditioning? He hasn't played in a while and may not be in basketball shape right now.
-Is he still coachable? A lot has happened since 2003. He listened to Pop (mostly) back then but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll listen to him today.
-Is he willing to be a role player? Jackson has been playing a leading role since he left San Antonio. For this to work, he'll need to embrace a role as a complementary force behind the Big 3.
-Is he going to be able to clean up his sloppy play? In the past, he could negate his turnovers and defensive miscues due to the sheer number of touches he got and the minutes he played. With the Spurs, his mistakes will be more magnified.
-Is he able to shoot better if given higher quality shots? If he accepts his role and takes what the defense gives him, Jackson is going to a ton of open looks. But the Spurs need his accuracy to rise, which could and should happen as a byproduct of better shot selection.
Will Jackson start? If not, what will his role be?
Back in 2003, Jackson started for the Spurs at shooting guard. Today, at 34, Jackson no longer has the speed to be a starting shooting guard in the league. He will either start at small forward or come off the bench.
In the next two games, I expect Kawhi Leonard to get the start at small forward. When Jackson joins the team (it sounds like it'll be next Wednesday versus Minnesota), I expect Pop to keep Leonard in the starting lineup and bring Jackson off the bench. From there, Jackson will be given a chance to win a starting spot. That said, I doubt he'll be handed a starting gig from Day 1.
Come playoff time, it's certainly possible that Jackson will be starting. Truthfully, if all goes smoothly, he will be starting because Jackson is the type of player whose skillset is best suited for the starting lineup.
Since leaving San Antonio, Jackson has never averaged less than 32.1 minutes per game. However, the most I can imagine him playing at this stage of his career and with this squad is about 28 minutes per game.
What if Jackson flames out and isn't a fit?
That's very possible. In addition to the concerns listed above, he could be a bad fit chemistry-wise or do something off the court that negatively impacts his future with the team. However, the beauty of this trade is that it's a good trade no matter what happens with Jackson.
Removing Jackson from the equation, trading a lottery protected first round pick to save $12 million is a trade that every team in the NBA does every time. That alone makes this a good trade; whatever Jackson provides the Spurs on the basketball court is an added bonus.
If worst comes to worst and Jackson isn't a fit, the fact that his contract is expiring after next season mitigates most of the risk. In fact, the Spurs could turn around and use Jackson's contract in a trade at some point next season since an expiring contract of that size holds value.
So, who is the happiest person in all of this?
Pop loved coaching Jackson, so you know he's thrilled about this trade. The Spurs have attempted to get Jackson back on this team ever since he left after the 2003 championship and Pop was the main person pushing for it to happen. Duncan, Ginobili and Parker have all said how much they enjoyed playing with him. Duncan even went as far as to call Jackson "the ultimate teammate".
Peter Holt and the rest of the ownership group are smiling right now. The trade basically added $12 million to the coffers and removed the possibility of the team paying Jefferson not to play. It would have been a difficult pill to swallow for the owners to pay Jefferson $21 million this summer for nothing in return, which would have been the case if he was amnestied. Even if Jackson crashes and burns, there's a lot less dead money on the books tonight than the was yesterday.
Jackson probably has somewhat mixed emotions. On one hand, he gets to return to his home state of Texas and relive his past glory. On the other hand, he's not going to get the contract extension he's been asking about for the last few months. It's also going to be an adjustment for him to not be the man anymore. But underneath everything, I've always though Jackson was a decent person and I think he'll be smart enough to realize how great of a situation he has landed in. If he plays his cards right, he can be a fan favorite who only has to concentrate about one thing: Winning.