Jackson’s dreams await with patience

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

reggie-jackson

Reggie Jackson averaged 13.1 points and 4.1 assists last season in 28.5 minutes. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Reggie Jackson didn’t start the Oklahoma City Thunder’s preseason opener Wednesday night at Denver, and that’s not likely to change regardless of how many impassioned pleas he makes.

“I want it. I feel strong about it. I want to be the starter,” Jackson said a couple of weeks ago during Media Day, delivering a rambling and emotional speech that spilled over the 10 minutes allotted for each player. “What I have always grown up just believing, I want a majority of my time to be spent playing against other starters. I want to play against the best, I want to play against Chris Paul, I want to play against Kyrie Irving, I want to be mentioned on the highest of levels.”

It’s certainly admirable. It’s just not practical. Three-time All-Star Russell Westbrook is the Thunder’s starting point guard, and coach Scott Brooks just anointed him best in the business.

But that’s not the point here. Oklahoma City has a starting job open at shooting guard, not point guard. Jackson, a quick, 6-foot-3 point guard, filled the 2-guard spot well several times during the second round and the West finals when Brooks benched longtime starter Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha moved on to Atlanta and OKC will replace him in-house. Just not with Jackson.

The overriding issue is — and this should make Jackson feel all warm and fuzzy — he’s too valuable right where he is. It’s more ideal for OKC to fill in the starting 2-guard spot (second-year player Andre Roberson, a defensive-minded two-guard with little offensive upside, and erratic Jeremy Lamb, a natural for the position as a lanky 6-foot-5 shooter if he can ever harness consistency, are the top options) than to replace Jackson’s critical production off the bench.

It’s unfortunate really. Here’s a young player so determined to make a name for himself but is convinced being a reserve is taking a back seat. Brooks and others try to tell him it’s more impressive to be a “finisher,” which he is, that he’ll log as many minutes as a sub and he’ll play many, many minutes alongside Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

The decision to not start Jackson isn’t a personal one, or one made because there’s somebody better to do it. As shown above, there’s not. Keeping Jackson on the bench is purely strategic. OKC needs his aggression, penetration and scoring to lead the second unit. As they realized last season, the Thunder bench is compromised without him.

“For some people [starting is] important. To others it’s not,” Jackson said. “It’s very prideful for me. I feel like I’m very talented. I feel like I can lead a team. That’s just how I’ve been raised and that’s just how I’ve always felt. I want to be the guy in charge. I want to be the guy leading the team, the head of the snake.”

Again, admirable, but not realistic. Intertwined in all this is Jackson’s eligibility for an extension by the end of the month as he enters his fourth season. If one doesn’t get done he’ll enter next summer as a restricted free agent, which seems the likely path, where other teams can set his value.

Comparisons have been made to James Harden‘s situation a couple of years ago when OKC stunned everybody and traded him to Houston before the start of the 2012-13 season. But lets not confuse Jackson for Harden, a No. 3 overall pick and an emerging star when he was dealt. Jackson, the 24th pick, barely got off the bench as a rookie. He averaged 14.2 minutes the next season before being thrust into the starting lineup in the first round of the playoffs after Westbrook injured his knee. He started 36 games last season when Westbrook was out and staked himself as key contributor. His 32 points in 37 brilliant minutes off the bench in Game 4 at Memphis, all but saved an embarrassing first-round exit.

A more accurate comparison is Eric Bledsoe, the 18th pick in 2010 (actually drafted by the Thunder and traded to the Clippers) who spent three seasons backing up CP3. He got his break last season after being traded to Phoenix. He played great in a two point-guard backcourt with Goran Dragic and the Suns made fast strides. Although Bledsoe missed half the season with a knee injury, he cashed in as a restricted free agent with the Suns — albeit rather contentiously — on a five-year, $70 million contract.

Jackson won’t get that chance to start, but what he has that Bledsoe did not is the opportunity to win a championship. If he does that, or even gets close, while being perceived as a selfless, super sixth man, all of Jackson’s boyhood dreams will be in front of him starting next summer.

Just not likely with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

17 Comments

  1. Mike says:

    If being a starter is more important than what the team needs to be successful the thunder don’t stand a chance.

  2. TTKIN says:

    In the real world, when a guy wants a promotion and doesn’t get it cuz he’s “too valuable where he is”, and then they promote the new guy to that position instead, no one questions that employee quitting and going to a new company.

    It has happened to me a couple times now. Therefore, I fully sympathize with Jackson.

    At the very least, I say start him part of the season to see how it goes. Who knows, maybe the bench will actually…(gulp)….develop ;-O

  3. T gas TT ako says:

    SELFLESS players wins rings,,, STARTING role is much important for him than a championship run,, what a really stupid and arrogant player,,,

  4. Kirby Record says:

    Arrogant schmuck. That’s about it. Get rid of him to a cellar-dweller with something to trade and maybe he can start there.

  5. Z.... says:

    I dont understand why its such a big deal to be the “starter.” You could start a game, and literally play a couple of minutes a night. Its stupid. He’ll play a lot of minutes, run the offense on the 2nd unit, and finish the game a lot of the time. What’s his deal? Also, they cant seriously be considering playing Perkins again this year, can they? the lineup should be Westbrook, Roberson, Jones, Durant, Ibaka, with Jackson, Adams, Lamb, Collison, and Morrow coming off the bench, in that order. They already missed the boat with Sefolosha last year, and I would say they’ve downgraded a little defensively from that, but that lineup should still be able to use its length and athleticism to disrupt on the defensive end, and then get out and run. Hopefully, Brooks doesnt hold this team back again, and then in the playoffs, KD needs to catch the ball closer to the basket than he does (near half court for some reason). He has to know that he cant go 1 on 5 every time in that environment. Get on the elbow and do your work early, and stop letting little dudes guard you

  6. jake s. says:

    Yeah… there are a lot of dudes in the league that can do what Reggie can do. He doesn’t deserve the payday until he shows hes a star. They overpaid Eric Bledsoe. They will probably overpay Jackson… but it doesn’t seem like they deserve it.

  7. Michael says:

    Good thing Jackson is not the coach. Reggie is OKC’s only scoring option off the bench. (OKC’s lack of bench production is the main reason they won’t get out of the West again this season.)

    Team first, Reggie. Talk to Kevin McHale or Manu Ginobili. McHale came off the bench for 59% of the games he played in his career, Ginobili 56% so far. And they both have more rings than LeBron James.

  8. harriethehawk says:

    This will be another mistake the Thunder make by not starting Jackson. He deserves it and the 2nd unit can still be good without him. If Jackson leaves and Kevin Durant flocks to the Wizards, I will be done w/ OKC. First Harden now this. Can’t take it!

  9. Abe says:

    Why the Thunder has not brought in at least 2 good players to replace Fisher, Sepholosha and even Butler? I am a fan an not that I am doubting KD, Russ & Ibaka but we need players. Otherwise it’s gonna be like those years where one of our key players get injured and we struggle!

  10. Nbaking says:

    Reggie if u wanna start u gotta prove yourself 13 points ain’t gonna cut it buddy

  11. Luke Mcadam says:

    I think if he wants to start he should be the starting point guard with Westbrook in as the starting shooting guard

  12. johnny dawson says:

    The nice thing about Jackson is that, compared to him, Westbrook is sort of an airhead. Russell needs to think more when he is on the court.

  13. teg says:

    so it really sounds like if Jackson doesn’t get to start, there’s a hunch that eventually he may be looking to go somewhere else (that is unless OKC moves Westbrook which I can’t see happening)

    • OKC says:

      We should be able to pay him enough (we will be going over the cap next year no matter what we do so hopefully we won’t be penny pinching with him) but if he moves on it will be because we can’t afford to start him even though he is good enough to start on a lot of teams. With Reggie or Russell at the 2 we take a big step back defensively and Scott doesn’t seem willing to do that. If we can win it all this year it will go a long way towards keeping him happy and in the fold but if not it might be a hard sell.

      • OKCD says:

        Even with a championship it might be a hard sell, it seems like he might go the way of Harden no matter what he does this year.

      • TTKIN says:

        Originally I criticized Harden for not taking the pay cut and leaving. But the more I think about it, it makes sense. He is now a top player in this league. When he was OKC 6th man, everyone knew he was really good, but no one knew he was great.

        That is the prob that Jackson doesn’t want. He’ll sacrifice for the team, but he doesn’t want to keep being told “OKC has a big 3, and ur not a part of that”. Jackson believes he can be more than OKCs lacky. And I personally agree with him.

        RW is more athletic and flashier, but I’d rather have Jackson on my team than RW. Imagine how good OKC would be if they had Durant, Serge, Harden, and Jackson. Instead, they have RW, Durant, and Serge. Cuz Harden is gone, and Jackson WILL BE.

        Jackson setting up those 3 guys woulda been so great to watch. Oh well, I bought 2K so I’ll just do it on there and see what it woulda been like haha.

      • Z.... says:

        ridiculous statement. RW is better than James Harden EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE WEEK