Pop Told Stephen Jackson No Extension Talks Prior To Trade
Column by Buck Harvey
Some were shocked last week when a Spur was caught in the crossfire of a bottle-throwing fight.
The stunner: It was Tony Parker in the New York club, not Stephen Jackson.
Jackson has made a habit of being at the intersection of wrong place, wrong time. And had he been in New York, partying at Parker’s side, bottles would have likely flown in the other direction, too.
But San Antonio saw none of that the past few months after Jackson returned to the Spurs as the prodigal rapper. He was happy, content, even professional.
So what happens next, when Jackson’s serenity is tested? What happens when he returns next season without the contract extension he’d always wanted?
Gregg Popovich might already have solved this with a simple phone call.
By all appearances, Jackson was a man at peace last season. When he didn’t play, he didn’t object; when he did, he played hard. He brought toughness to the floor and humor to the locker room.
The final image of Jackson might have been his best, when he tossed in six 3-pointers in Game 6 at Oklahoma City. “I’m having fun!” he screamed in the second quarter, but he could have been talking about every day since the March 15 trade.
Later, after he was called for a technical foul, and Popovich had screamed at him, Jackson defended himself but took responsibility.
“It was wrong on my part,” he said, “but it was just my emotions.”
But that’s Jackson. His emotions sometimes run too deep, often fueled by a need for loyalty and respect. When he doesn’t get that in return, he becomes a problem.
A year after signing an extension with the Warriors, he asked for a trade. A year after landing in Charlotte, he sought another contract extension. It was a primary reason the Bobcats sent him to Milwaukee.
Then, a year ago, after a formal press conference at the ?Bradley Center, Jackson said he intended to discuss a contract extension with Bucks officials, too.
When asked how important a contract extension was for him, Jackson told reporters: “It’s mandatory.”
The way he reacted early last season suggested the unsolved issue had stuck with him, and that led to the trade. Nothing has changed contractually for him since, with approximately $10 million he’s due next season on the last year of his contract.
Now, he likely wonders this: What kind of contract will he get when he’s a 35-year-old bench player?
The Spurs won’t give him an extension. There’s no reason to lock up someone of that age and stature. It’s business. Besides, Tim Duncan played this past season on the last year of his contract.
Still, Jackson has been headstrong before. And that’s why what happened in the minutes before the March trade mattered last season and matters now. Then, Jackson was readying to board a Delta flight in Minneapolis, heading to join the Warriors, when the Spurs called.
Popovich told Jackson they were close to completing a deal for him. Popovich didn’t tell Jackson this: The phone call, in part, was to make sure they didn’t hear anything crazy.
So Popovich laid out his priorities. He told Jackson he wanted his toughness, and there could be minutes for him. But Popovich also told him he liked Kawhi Leonard as his small forward, and nothing would be guaranteed.
Then, Popovich said something else. “We’re not talking about an extension.”
This is the power of clarity and honesty. Popovich does it as well as anyone, and it’s a reason Jackson has said Popovich connects with him better than any other coach has.
It’s a reason Jackson responded so well last season. And if Jackson is the same next year, don’t be stunned by something else.
Jackson might get another contract in 2013.
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