I was just about as surprised as anyone when the Spurs announced that they cut Stephen Jackson. However, I trusted that Pop knew what he was doing and that whatever mojo SJax was bringing into the lockerroom was no good. When I heard the news, my first reaction was to immediately jump to the waiver wires and see which SF were available. Naturally, at the top of the list was former All-Star Tracy McGrady, and I mentioned to a co-worker that we should consider giving the tires on T-Mac a little kick and see what he has left. Then, the Spurs announced they signed Tracy McGrady.
Now this post isn't to say that I can read RC Buford's mind, because, I can't. I probably just got lucky on this one, or maybe the choice was just THAT obvious. That being said, from the reports that I've seen and the logic behind Pop's decision making, we do need to temper somewhat our expectations of what to expect out of T-Mac when he does check into a game with a Spurs uniform on (which won't be until the playoffs, if ever).
First off, T-Mac will NOT be getting Stephen Jackson's minutes. While I am somewhat fond of the idea of trotting T-Mac out there as the primary SF backup, I understand that having played the entire season in China and not really had any experience with the team (or chemistry for that matter) that Pop approaches T-Mac as more of an insurance policy, he's a steady veteran hand that will be buried relatively deep in the bench, I'd imagine somewhat akin to Steve Smith or Glenn Robinson in the previous Spurs playoff runs.
With the anticipation of Manu returning to the floor, I can see Pop shortening his wing rotation to basically Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, and Manu Ginobili, and depending on foul trouble or matchups insert Gary Neal sort of sparingly either as an off-guard or as Tony Parker's primary backup. With that being said, when he needs a kickstart, he then may insert Tracy McGrady. So what then do we expect from T-Mac?
Ideally, he'd be something of a spark plug, more of a tertiary offensive creator that just comes in and scores a couple of timely buckets. He may be that second quarter spark that the Spurs sometimes need going into halftime. While no three-point specialist, T-Mac's above-average ability to handle the ball and run an offense does give him the ability to maintain a certain amount of spacing with the rest of the players, and I am sure these practices are just drilling T-Mac in where to go when certain players are on the floor. Certainly T-Mac isn't going to take over games anymore, but he may provide a steady hand and decent playmaking when defenses start zoning in on Parker and Ginobili and Neal and Green potentially start stalling out.
The biggest question mark for T-Mac would be how he fares on the defensive end, which I believe is largely mitigated by the fact that he probably won't be playing significant enough minutes to warrant that to be a major issue. Hopefully, though, if he does become a key rotation player, it's because he's earning the minutes, more so than anyone getting injured or something.
Anyways, I am very excited to see how T-Mac fares in black and silver. I don't expect him to turn back the clock, but I believe that he has more left in the tank than the average fan might give him credit for. So once again to the Spurs' front office. Good move.