Pop says criticism toward Jefferson is ‘unfair’


Today is the final day for teams to decide if they’ll be using the amnesty provision on any of RJtheir players. Thus far, it looks as if the Richard Jefferson-amnesty report that torched the Internet and fan text wires last week is beginning to fade. If the Spurs don’t amnesty Jefferson today, they’ll most likely keep him for the remainder of the season.

After practice on Thursday, the San Antonio Express-News was able to get head coach Gregg Popovich’s answers on Jefferson’s status at the moment. In his response, Coach Pop discuses the potential Jefferson can have this coming season, why the criticism toward Jefferson was unfair, and why no one on the team played to their ability except Gary Neal.

“It’s kind of interesting, 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.”

Said Popovich: “I don’t think anybody played great. 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. He had a hell of a year for us. I don’t think any of us stood out in that series. What stood out was Memphis, both as a team and individually, they were great.

“Really the only person who played consistently well through the whole series was Gary Neal. To put it on Richard, I think is inappropriate.”

Though Popovich spoke these words Thursday, there had to be some talks on moving Jefferson after the season ended. On draft night, there were multiple rumors of the team shopping point guard Tony Parker in a package that would need to include Jefferson. Then when the lockout ended, the Spurs were one of the first teams rumored to be interested in a handful of small forward free agents from Caron Butler, Vince Carter, Josh Howard, Maurice Evans, Bostjan Nachabar, Reggie Williams, Grant Hill, and even Tayshaun Prince.

During those negotiations with available free agents was when the Jefferson-to-be-amnestied report broke last week. At the time, maybe the Spurs thought they’d land one of the players named above. But as of Thursday night, only Nachbar is still available as Josh Howard decided to sign with the Utah Jazz and Maurice Evans elected to return to Washington.

The latest on Nachbar is that he’s most likely east coast bound to play for the Knicks. There’s no further discussions of his party and the Spurs.

As for Jefferson and the Spurs, if he isn’t amnestied on Friday, the team will proceed most likely with him as the starting small forward as James Anderson and rookie Kawhi Leonard eventually find a place in the rotation. One has to assume that Jefferson will continue to stay on the trade block throughout the season but it’s doubtful any team will make a trade for his contract unless they’re getting a major Spurs asset in return as well.

Coach Popovich believes the team will carry on with Jefferson and he thinks he’ll continue to make an improvement in his third season.

“Each year, he’s understood the system more and done a better job,” Popovich said of Jefferson. “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 3s, and he got better defensively. I think he’ll move forward from there.

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Paul is an editor, writer and content manager for ProjectSpurs.com (@ProjectSpurs) and AnalyzingTheLeague.com (@ATLeague_NBA). Paul is also the host of the Spurscast (@TheSpurscast). Paul has been a credentialed media member covering the San Antonio Spurs and NBA since 2011. Paul has been featured on numerous radio, tv, online and podcast shows.