Like Kawhi Leonard with the Spurs and Greg Monroe with the Pistons, Oklahoma City Thunder backup point guard and sometime off-guard Reggie Jackson didn’t agree to an extension before the Oct. 31 deadline, making him a restricted free agent July 1, 2015. Recent comments from Jackson combined with his self-serving play, though, led Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka to perform some in-house team policing during Monday night’s loss 31-point loss to the Nets.
This is really bad timing for internal strife among those OKC player actually healthy because the Thunder are about as banged up as you can be with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeremy Lamb and Tony Wroten all currently missing time due to various ailments. The Thunder even signed guard Ish Smith because they’ve got such a paucity of healthy players, and they came dangerously close to being one player short when a few players got into foul trouble during their 100-88 loss to the Raptors on Tuesday night.
But the trouble with Jackson started brewing even before he returned to the lineup — after missing the first three games of the season with a twisted ankle — on Monday night against the Nets. Per The Oklahoman, by way of Eye on Basketball, comes the lead-up to Ibaka and Perkins freezing Jackson out, which started with Jackson’s comments during Saturday’s shootaround when he portentously proclaimed, “I’m just trying to play my role while I’m here.”
That comment went largely unnoticed by most.
But Jackson already had said enough to turn local supporters into skeptics.
When he finally took the court after missing the first three regular season games due to an ankle injury, Jackson didn’t do himself any favors in the court of public opinion.
He played selfishly at times in his season debut at Brooklyn on Monday, putting on a one-man show and what seemed to be a dribbling exhibition designed to search for his own shot. He finished with a game-high 23 points but took 20 shots. Perry Jones and Serge Ibaka, the next two highest shot takers, had 12 and 11 shot attempts, respectively. Jackson had five assists but committed five fouls and seven turnovers.
Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins grew frustrated with Jackson by the third quarter. Both big men began freezing out their point guard, refusing to pass him the ball to lead the break following defensive rebounds.
After the game, Thunder coach Scott Brooks even publicly criticized Jackson for not moving the ball.
Jackson took responsibility.
Perkins admitted it was a mistake after-the-fact, though:
“Just let the game come to you,” Perkins said about Jackson. “But with myself and with Serge, we got to do a better job with our body language and leadership skills, because I didn’t like the way I acted in the Brooklyn game as far as my body language toward Reggie. But we know Reggie means well. We support him. He’s one of my good friends off the court. So it’s no harm in that.”
This is an awful turn for a Thunder team that was again expected to compete for the Western Conference crown this season after falling a couple games short against the Spurs in last season’s Western Conference Final.
Perkins is right that he and Serge need to talk with Jackson rather than freeze him out during the game. Like Cleveland, the opening to the 2014-15 NBA season has brought nothing but heartache for the Thunder. Now is the time for them to band together rather than the current frayed seams reaping a franchise that’s consistently been one of the best teams top to bottom over the last three seasons.
Jackson, it seems, has heeded the unspoken warning from his teammates, though, which calcified into something more concrete after Perkins and Brooks’ post-game comments. In that Tuesday night loss to the Raptors, Reggie again struggled to shoot the ball — going 4-of-14 from the field and 0-for-6 from deep — but he did pass for 14 dimes, perhaps remembering it’s a team sport.
Whether Jackson’s issues with management — a Yahoo report says he could command $12-13 million in free agency next summer — and his role as a backup, he’s continually said he wants to start, continue to act as a wedge in OKC’s attempts to overcome the loss of their two all-stars for the first month of the season, remains to be seen. But all is not well with an Oklahoma City team that’s off to a difficult 1-4 start.
Russ and KD can’t get back soon enough, but next summer the Thunder might have to say goodbye to another excellent guard who is unhappy with his bench role in support of the stars. Right now, though, they’re focused entirely on not falling too far back in the competitive Western Conference before their leaders return from injury.
Will Jackson flee in restricted free agency next summer?
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