‘Jack’ happy with role, wishing for new deal

In a good place in both his basketball and music careers, there’s not much that can keep a smile off Stephen Jackson’s face these days.

Three days into his first Spurs’ training camp since 2002, Jackson wants the world to remember his new rap album drops at the end of the month.

“’Jack of All Trades’ coming Oct. 30,” he bellows to anyone within earshot at the team’s practice facility. “Be looking out for it. On iTunes and your nearest Best Buy. Go get it.”

Only one thing could make Jackson’s professional life better: An extension of his contract, worth $10 million in its final season.

“I want it, but I can’t control it,” Jackson said, toweling sweat off his face after Tuesday’s practice. “Every day when I walk in here I’m hoping they’ll call me in and say, ‘Jack, here’s your extension.’

“I think I deserve it, but at the end of the day I’m still happy to be here and all I can worry about is what I can control, and that’s my play.”

He should not be surprised the call hasn’t come. When he returned to the Spurs last season in a mid-March in a trade that sent Richard Jefferson to Golden State, coach and president of basketball operations Gregg Popovich alerted him an extension was not in the offing.

Given that the swingman practically forced the Bucks to trade him to the Warriors last season by declaring it “mandatory” they extend his deal, his promise to earn a new contract from the Spurs through his play qualifies as professional enlightenment.

Jackson also is content with an off-the-bench role, anxious to see how things shake out on a roster loaded with talented wing players.

“At the end of the day we know Pop will do the best job of getting the guys on the court to win the game,” he said. “As far as roles, the guys who have been here know our roles and we kind of expect the same type of situation next year. I don’t expect to start and I really don’t want to. I enjoyed my role last year. We love our roles and just want to be a better team than last year.”

At age 34, could maturity finally have caught up with Jackson’s exuberance?

“He’ll come off the bench, he knows that,” Popovich said. “At this stage of his career, he understands what makes teams tick and how rotations work and how teams are put together. Just like Manu (Ginobili) has come off the bench quite often, Jack understands that.”

Mostly, Popovich is optimistic that having Jackson from the first day of training camp will produce optimal results.

“I think more than anything, it’s about him being healthy, being in great shape,” Popovich said. “He knows our system really well, since he was already here. I think easing into things is going to benefit him, rather than jumping in like last year and having to get going off the bat. It kind of put him behind the curve, I thought.

“Being able to do this at a decent pace will help him be more valuable to us.”

Jackson averaged 8.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and two assists in 21 regular-season games with the Spurs last season. His role expanded in the playoffs, especially the final four games of the Western Conference finals, when he made 15 of 21 3-pointers and averaged 15.8 points in just under 27 minutes a game.

When Popovich forced his players to re-watch the lowlights of their series collapse against the Thunder on media day, Jackson cringed right along with every example the coach had picked out from Games 3 through 6, but with the knowledge he had been at his best as pressure mounted.

“He wasn’t calling my name too much,” Jackson said. “I had a decent series so he wasn’t singling me out. It was tough because we’re not a team known not to finish. We were up 2-0. We didn’t finish that series. I watch that series all the time and I’m still upset about it.”


Twitter: @Monroe_SA

Butler impressed with Spurs after visit

Free agent forward Caron Butler apparently is at the top of the Spurs’ replacement list after the team decided to use the amnesty clause in the new CBA to jettison Richard Jefferson.

Butler met with Spurs officials Wednesday and came away and his opportunity to help San Antonio.

Jefferson could survive Amnesty Day

By Jeff McDonald

Today is Amnesty Day across the NBA, the date by which teams must decide whether to exercise their so-called “amnesty provision” on a player for this season, or save it for a campaign to come.

For Richard Jefferson, long named near the top of every speculative “to-be-amnestied” list, today could mark the last day of his Spurs career. Or it could be the first day of the rest of his third season in silver and black.

A red-letter day indeed, except Jefferson didn’t exactly have it circled on his calendar.

“I didn’t even know until you told me,” a grinning Jefferson said after Thursday’s practice. “I could have gone to bed tonight a happy man.”

Judging by the way his head coach has been raving about him, not to mention the way the free-agent market has been drying up, perhaps Jefferson needn’t lose sleep anyway.

Though Gregg Popovich didn’t go so far as to rule out the prospect of amnesty for ? Jefferson, it certainly sounds as if the coach is preparing to open the season with the 31-year-old small forward still in the fold.

“It’s kind of interesting,” Popovich said. “Everybody’s always asking about amnesty, and I’m always wondering, ‘Why Richard?’ As if we didn’t advance in the playoffs because of Richard.”

Under the amnesty provision, teams are granted one “get-out-of-a-bad-deal” card, allowing them to waive one player and scrub his contract from the payroll for salary cap and taxpaying purposes.

Waiving Jefferson, who is owed $30.5 million over the next three seasons, would nudge the Spurs’ payroll below the luxury-tax line, allowing them access to the full $5 million mid-level exception in free agency.

With speculation swirling since the start of camp, Jefferson has deflected questions about his future.

“It’s one of those things where you just approach this game like a professional,” Jefferson said. “There’s trade rumors, things always happen. I respect the Spurs and whatever they decide to do, I’ll support.”

Absent a readily available replacement, however, the Spurs seem disinclined to part with their starting small forward. Josh Howard’s decision Thursday to accept a one-year deal in Utah made keeping Jefferson an even more attractive option, at least for this season.

It also helps explain Popovich’s impassioned — and largely unsolicited — Amnesty Day Eve defense of Jefferson’s two-season tenure in San Antonio.

“Each year, he’s understood the system more and done a better job,” Popovich said. “I think he wants to come back and have an even better year than he did last year. I think he was fifth in the league in shooting his threes, and he got better defensively. I think he’ll move forward from there.”

Though Jefferson’s scoring average dipped from 12.3 points to 11 last season, he was more efficient in his second year with the Spurs than his first. His 44-percent clip from 3-point range was not only the fifth-best in the NBA, but also a career high.

Jefferson became a lightning rod for criticism during the top-seeded Spurs’ disappointing first-round playoff ouster against Memphis, totaling 10 points in the final four games. He was benched for the second half of the Game 6 clincher.

Jefferson was not the only player to sag in that series, Popovich noted.

“I don’t think anybody played great,” Popovich said. “Maybe I should have coached better. Maybe three or four players should have played better, but everybody kind of singled out Richard, which was pretty unfair.”

The Spurs could opt to save their amnesty card until the offseason, when they will also have Tim Duncan’s $21.2 million coming off the books and a deeper free-agent pool to chase.

For now, signs point to Jefferson surviving to Saturday, when the Spurs open the preseason at Houston. Until Amnesty Day has come and gone, however, he will sleep with one eye open.

“I’ve had a great time here, and I’m looking forward for it to continue,” Jefferson said. “If something does happen, I’ll be the first to know.”