Rethinking A Reggie Jackson Trade

Rumors of a Reggie Jackson trade [to the Timberwolves] was squashed a few weeks ago though Stan Van Gundy did admit there were casual discussions with Minnesota. Van Gundy reassured Jackson he wasn’t going to be traded once it hit social media. It was a blow to Jackson, his name in trade talks, because Reggie Jackson has always overvalued his talent. How many players would willingly give up consecutive playoff berths and the Durant-Westbrook combo to tread water in seeds 6-8, on a team that is developing young talent and may be 3-5 years away from being a contender?

Now trade talks are back on with whomever would take on three more years of Reggie Jackson, the game and the attitude.

Reggie Jackson has always believed he was a star talent, someone who could carry a team to wins. Remember when he was traded to Detroit and he tweeted crying tears of joy #god is great? There are a lot of things to thank God for. A NBA trade should be way down on the list. Jackson acted as if he had just been in basketball hell when he’d been on a team that had won a minimum of 50 games ever year since he entered the league.

Just as Jackson threw shade, his former teammates weren’t shy about throwing Jackson under the bus. They were not hesitant in saying Jackson was an outlier, that he didn’t want to be there, that he wasn’t a team player. Some of the reaction may have been reflective of Jackson’s mega diss to them and some of it probably was truth. Jackson didn’t want to be there, didn’t want to be in the Durant-Westbrook shadow. Jackson felt his talent was equal to Durant and Westbrook (stop laughing) and he wanted to start, not be Russ’s backup. There were claims and counter claims, like Jackson refused to play in a game because he wasn’t traded before the October 31st (2014) deadline. Some former teammates told accounts of freezing Jackson out.

Jackson reflected to Adrian Wojnarwoski (Yahoo).

“The whole time I was honest. I wanted to start. And then I became the problem in the locker room to people who hae never been in our locker room.”

The problem is pretty basic. Jackson didn’t understand that on a championship contending team it is not about starting, it is about finishing, as in June. You must accept your role. NBA teams are fragile. For the most part it is 9 guys in the rotation. Great players can have friction and produce incredible results (Shaq-Kobe, MJ-Scottie) but Hall of Fame talent is a privilege that allows the ordinary to overlook behavior just because of how great they are.  Reggie Jackson isn’t great.

However, the NBA is a turn the page league so Jackson, in Detroit, could really start over. Or, could he?

Because he dissed Westbrook and Durant by wanting out, two top 5 players, Reggie Jackson was a rebel without a cause. For it all to work for Jackson, he had to dominate in Detroit and lead them. Everyone would have then forgotten about what happened in OKC and what Jackson’s role was in the OKC divorce. If not, if it skewed badly in the Motor City, the label attached to Jackson, one he would never be able to get rid of, would be loser.

What we are seeing this season out of Jackson is the kind of game role players present and many are thinking about Ish Smith over Jackson. One writer called Ish Smith the Pistons MVP. Stan Van Gundy is coy about Smith getting some of Jackson’s minutes which brings us back to the trade that never was going to happen, according to Van Gundy.

Ricky Rubio was coming, Reggie Jackson was going. The book on Rubio besides his bloated salary is he is a very good on ball perimeter defender, good lateral quickness and he knows how to orchestrate an offense. He can get into the paint and make the right decision. He just cannot score. Reggie Jackson can score but he struggles at times in decision making and late in games he wants to be the hero. Even though the trade never got into the advanced stages, there was a dark irony. Reggie Jackson forced his way out of OKC and now the Pistons were forcing Jackson out of Detroit. If no trade happens, Jackson may in fact be presented his worst nightmare: benched again but not for Westbrook but for Ish Smith, a journeyman NBA player.

To be fair to Jackson though, this year started out as a disaster. Through no fault of his own Jackson had a knee injury and missed the opening month. He never really got acclimated post-recovery. He struggled from the jump. In his absence, Ish Smith did Ish Smith things. Smith is very fast downhill but the reason he has struggled with so many teams is he is not a great finisher and he can’t make a perimeter shot. But he is a great teammate and floor general. He thinks the game. It must be demoralizing for Jackson to possibly have his minutes taken by an 8 point per game player who is shooting better than him.

When measuring on court impact, Ish Smith is ranked 22nd among point guards and Reggie Jackson is ranked 58th (Real Plus-Minus).

Jackson’s year has been forgettable. He is taking the second most shots in his career but is making the second fewest, only his rookie year was worse at putting the ball in the hole. He is not getting to the line, meaning he is not attacking. The only time his rebounding was this low was when he was a rookie. His assists are a three year low. I doubt 15 points a game was what he was thinking when he begged to be a starter. 18-20 points is how he saw himself. His offensive rating is the lowest it has been since his rookie year. In his last 10 games, 7 out of the 10 he has shot less than 40%. 8 out of the 10 he has shot 40% or less. One game, he was particularly awful, the 20% club. During that same stretch, Ish Smith has shot under 40% one time. He shot 80% or better three times, above 50% eight times.

The elite point guards- Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, John Wall- are all gifted at different things. Chris Paul is the ultimate team orchestrator and no one defends in the tough gritty way Paul does. Curry is the offensive three point savant, shooting from anywhere on the court, releasing the ball so quick by the time you get there you are too late. Westbrook is the driving, pulsating energy ball of fire that attacks 24-7 and makes plays for others and himself plus he is the best rebounding guard in the league. John Wall is pure speed, a great defender with quick hands and feet and is having his best year shooting the ball.

At times, Reggie Jackson borrows some of their game. He can be a ball facilitator ala Paul. He can drain a big three like Curry. He can attack the rim like Westbrook and he definitely plays with a chip on his shoulder like Russ. He can beat his man off the dribble and get to the hoop. But he doesn’t have the consistency. He goes through stretches where he isn’t very good and that is where Ish Smith comes in.

Ish Smith has none of that baggage. He just wants to play. He has been on enough teams to not take anything about his career for granted. The Reggie Jackson trade talk makes sense because it is hard to imagine that if Reggie Jackson is the best player on your team a conference final berth is forthcoming. The Pistons and Stan Van Gundy have a choice to make with Reggie Jackson. Yes, they are on the hook for three more years, ($51 million).

But it is three years too many.


photo via llananba