Just days before the end of the regular season, the San Antonio Spurs abruptly released Stephen Jackson, at the time one of our Top 10 Active NBA Journeymen.
The basketball world seemed to collectively assume that Gregg Popovich had grown weary of the volatile Jackson and chose to cut him loose instead of keeping him the mix for his potential offensive and defensive benefits.
It turns out that there was a specific obvious reason that Jackson needed to go – he simply could not handle playing behind Danny Green and Manu Ginobili.
From today’s San Antonio Express-News:
A year ago Jackson announced, in so many words, Popovich was the only coach who could handle him. Tuesday he said he refused this season to play Popovich’s “mind games.”
That goes against Popovich’s reputation as a straight shooter. That also goes against the conversation Popovich had just before the Spurs traded for Jackson in 2012.
Then, Popovich told Jackson what he would have to accept if the Spurs were going to proceed with the trade: No contract extension and no guarantee of playing time.
Jackson happily agreed, and last season he gave the Spurs some life. In the finale, in Game 6 in Oklahoma City, he may have been the Spur most comfortable with the tension.
He began this past season looking slower, and his shooting percentages fell. So did his minutes. He admits now he sparred with Popovich for about half the season. And after Popovich released him just days before the regular season ended, Jackson posted this on Instagram:
“I would never say a player is better than me when I know their (sic) not. Not for no one. #uandiknowwhatsgoingon”
Tuesday he revealed who he was talking about: Danny Green and Manu Ginobili.
Jackson insists Popovich wanted him to admit Green and Ginobili were better. More than likely, Popovich simply told Jackson they were better. That’s why they were playing instead of him.
Pride wouldn’t let Jackson accept that, and he admitted as much Tuesday. After showing the initial flash of anger when talking about Popovich, he later said Popovich knows him well, and that the release “was best for me so I wouldn’t go crazy.”
Or, as Jackson said Tuesday, again smiling, “I wouldn’t want me on the team, either.”
We see veteran athletes in every sport struggle with the reality of their diminishing athleticism and skills and how they deal with that reality dictates how and when they leave the game. Jason Kidd and Grant Hill are two guys who figured out how to adjust and extend their careers.
We guess we can understand how a grizzled vet would have trouble dealing with a young guy like Green taking his minutes, but Ginobili?
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