When the San Antonio Spurs first traded for Stephen Jackson, my initial reaction contradicted my later feelings on the matter. I was astounded, and at first could not see the reasoning behind the trade. He was the exact opposite of the prototypical Spur, and I couldn't see how he would assimilate with the offense and the team in general.
That disapproving perspective lasted all of three hours before I realized that despite his notorious "bad-boy" persona, as well as the "sharing" issue to supplement his reputation, Stephen Jackson was exactly what the Spurs needed.
He provided instant defense to the team, as well as a viable scoring option off the bench. As for his character predicament, I soon came to the understanding that under Coach Popovich's guidance, Jackson would revert back to the compliant attitude he displayed during his first stint with the team.
For the rest of the season, Jackson helped the Spurs, and was one of the reasons they were able to put up a solid fight against Kevin Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunder.
However, despite my previous views on the matter, the trade is making less and less sense with the 2012-13 season lurking overhead.
My problems with the deal don't concern Jackson himself—as he quickly found a spot amongst my favorite players in the league. On the contrary, my displeasure focused more around what they had to give up in order to acquire Jackson.
At first sight, a first-round pick packaged with Richard Jefferson may not seem too difficult to part with, especially considering the pick happened to be the final one in the first round.
Had the Spurs advanced to the Finals, it would have been largely in part to Jackson's stellar defense on the Thunder's mighty star. Yet, their 2012 title conquest proved fruitless, and while it's very easy to play Monday morning quarterback, the truth is the trade may not have been in the franchise's best interests.
The Spurs were not in dire need of a small forward, as they quickly moved Kawhi Leonard into the starting lineup. And while Jackson is a major upgrade over Richard Jefferson, Jefferson is a more than serviceable backup—and even Danny Green could play small forward, allowing the team's other guards to step in and gain a bigger role.
Instead, they needed a big man, and months later, their prayers are yet to be answered.
Had they kept their pick—assuming the draft results played out the same—they, not the Warriors would have been able to select Festus Ezeli with the 30th overall pick.
Ezeli would have not only provided the Spurs with the exact player that they needed, but also would have given them a young player to become part of their future.
The Spurs—outside of Tim Duncan—have only Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner standing over 6'8''. Bonner's height is misleading, as outside of his tall frame, his style of play in no way resembles that of a big man. Splitter, though his ceiling may be high, often looks lost, and cannot be counted on to carry the Spurs' frontcourt after Duncan's eventual retirement.
Ezeli, standing at 6'11'' and 255 pounds, is the exact build that the Spurs are in need of. In addition to his pure size, his overall athleticism and defensive ability make him a perfect candidate to fill the void in the Spurs roster.
He was always projected to have a high ceiling, but with the guidance of Pop and the mentorship of Duncan, it would be that much higher.
Ezeli would not only help the Spurs strengthen their size weakness, but he would massively help to brighten their future.
Sure Jackson may have helped last season, but the Spurs already had a solid team without him. At 34 years old, his best years are behind him, and Pop has already made it clear that his future on the team is not guaranteed.
On the other hand, Ezeli is 22 years old, and would have been a much more intelligent addition to the team, making us wonder—was trading for Stephen Jackson really worth the asking price?
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