Hammbag: What to do with Reggie Jackson?

NBAE/USATSI

NBAE/USATSI

The last mailbag was so much fun, I asked Royce if I could do another one. He agreed, displaying a terrible lapse in judgement in the process.

Let’s go.

Lots of questions about Reggie Jackson’s future in Oklahoma City. I didn’t post all of them because this would turn into 4,000 words about only Reggie Jackson. Put it this way: my in-laws got me a 2015 Thunder calendar. Each month has a photo of a particular Thunder player. For example, Steven Adams was the featured player for January. Reggie Jackson is the player pic for September. When we get to that month, I believe the calendar will seem dated. Like, “Honey, why do we still have the 2014 calendar on the wall?”

(Jeremy Lamb is the player pic for May, by the way.)

I’ll discuss some trade ideas as we go along. I don’t know that the Thunder would have to necessarily bring back a backup point guard in return. Scott Brooks described Dion Waiters as a player capable of playing both guard positions. So could Waiters fill that role for 10-12 minutes per night? Maybe pair him with Durant and let KD assume the lion’s share of the ballhandling during that stretch? Or maybe relying on Ish Smith for those 10-12 minutes per game wouldn’t be the worst thing ever. If nothing else, he gives effort.

In the interests of being as transparent as I can be, critiquing offensive and defensive schemes isn’t my strength. I see detailed video breakdowns by Zach Lowe and Anthony Slater and my eyes tend to gloss over. That stuff is so good but my brain isn’t built to consume it. I just see Non-Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception signees and Designated Players and the like.

But in general, consider that the Thunder have two of the best, if not THE best, one-on-one scorers in the league. Durant is pretty good at scoring, I guess you could say. Westbrook can pretty much beat his man off the dribble and get to the rim at will. But, to echo a recent quote by Darnell Mayberry, “five is better than two.” I’m not saying the Thunder need to go to the Triangle, or go full-blown Spurs/Warriors/Hawks. But Durant and Westbrook have to do a better job of involving the other players for the entire 48 minutes.

Here’s the rub with dealing Jackson: his talent is greater than his $2.2 million salary. And you have to look at the complete picture with Jackson, not just his vomit-inducing stats when he plays with KD and Russ healthy (see this for an idea of what I’m talking about). I have a bad feeling that Reggie is going to go elsewhere, start posting 20/8/5 for another team, and the torches and pitchforks are going to come out across the metro.

So in order to acquire another player somewhat equivalent to Jackson, you’ve got to look at aggregating him with another player. Perkins’ name comes up a lot because of his $9.6 million expiring contract. So maybe the Thunder could package Jackson and Perkins and bring back a significant player, or a pair of above average players. Or they could package Jackson with Lamb and/or Jones and find another player in that smaller salary range.

One player I don’t think would ever be tossed into a trade: Nick Collison. Yes, he’s an expiring deal (roughly $2.2 million) but I believe it would take an extreme set of circumstances for the Thunder to part with him. He means too much to the team. And to Royce…

Another consideration: the assumption has long been that Perkins’ expiring pact would create the necessary room to accommodate Jackson’s new salary next season. So if the Thunder decide to part with Jackson, maybe they would bring in someone who is owed big money next season and beyond. Waiters is under contract for over $5.1 million next season, which might play into these decisions.

What kind of ice cream are we talking about here? Because as far as I’m concerned, it’s Peanut Butter Cup ice cream or go home.

Because I’m a giant homer (so I’ve been told) and incapable of spewing a constant stream of hate, I think the chances are good that Waiters fits in here. From what I can gather, his relationship with Kyrie Irving was not good at all. Some Cavalier fans discounted that, but a fan that I trust quite a bit told me he felt it was bad. Then factor in that LeBron and Love were added and most of Waiters’ shots evaporated. I think the situation he was in led him to go into full sulk mode, a la Jackson now. To quote Cheryl Crow, “a change will do you good.”

Oh, in no particular order… Brook Lopez, Patrick Patterson, David West, George Hill, Shabazz Napier, Wilson Chandler, Enes Kanter. Those are a few names that come to mind and they could be available for various reasons. I don’t know that Jackson makes sense in some of those destinations, so you’d have to think of bigger trades involving more teams.

For Reggie, I’d say New York, Philadelphia, Indiana, Orlando, LA Lakers or Sacramento. Orlando is iffy because they have a young stable of guards already in Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton. And if the other teams really want Jackson, they might decide to try and get him in free agency this summer. If Jackson isn’t traded by the deadline, some team like New York or LA might really like their chances of prying him away from the Thunder.

I think that the Pelicans should try and snag Lamb. They really need to add established players, but if they can’t, taking a low-risk chance on Lamb wouldn’t be awful. Utah might not be a bad spot for him either right now with Alec Burks lost for the season.

As for Perk, the worst thing that could happen to him is to get thrown into a trade and sent to a team that has no use for him. If that did happen, Perkins could always negotiate a buyout and try to land somewhere else. I’d feel a whole lot better facing Houston, Golden State, Memphis, or San Antonio with Perk available.

On that note, thanks for reading, most of you!

Allow me to channel my inner Jim Mora, Sr.: “What’s that? PLAYOFFS?!? You talk about Playoffs? You kiddin’ me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game.”

I exaggerate (slightly). If the Thunder can extract their collective heads from their collective rectum, they should be able to get on a roll and make the playoffs. If they keep screwing around, Phoenix will be more than happy to end their season in April.

Assuming the Thunder do make the postseason, your question is interesting. The Thunder might be better built to take out the Grizzlies in round 1, and they might be ill-equipped to handle the Warriors. Or maybe you want to take on the still-untested Warriors in the first round and save a potential wrestling match with Memphis for later.

For now, I’ll say Memphis because there’s always a good chance that Zach Randolph could put one of his hands in someone’s face at an inopportune time. The Thunder might need more of those breaks this year.

My gut says Russell Westbrook because he’s an athletic freak. But I’ll go another direction and say Steven Adams. He just might make people forget Ed “Too Tall” Jones. And he might make Ndomukong Suh cry ON the field.

Not only do I think he will be traded, I think he should be traded. It pains me to come to that conclusion. My high hopes for him are pretty much dashed.

There are reasons for the Thunder to hang onto him (still on his inexpensive rookie scale contract, always a chance of injuries, he could make an unexpected return like Agent Phil Coulson). But I want Jeremy to go somewhere else and get another shot, and the Thunder might want that for him as well. Jeremy may need to be in a lower pressure situation or maybe one where adrenaline shots to the heart are regularly administered.

Let me get this straight: a former OU Football beat writer for the Oklahoman and current big-time ESPN writer is a big fan of me? Is this real life?

What you have to gauge is how valuable is it for another team to have Jackson’s bird rights and the ability to make him a restricted free agent this summer. As I mentioned earlier, teams may see a situation where they can pluck Jackson away from Oklahoma City this summer. That plan comes with risks, though. Jackson might not agree to sign an offer sheet with that team. Signing Jackson to an offer sheet ties up your available cap room for up to three days, and you run the risk of having your offer matched and losing out on other free agents. Remember, July free agency is a frenetic blur. There’s value in holding the player’s rights from the get-go.

With that said, I don’t know how many straight-up deals for Jackson are out there. One idea that’s been floated, and that I’ve looked at before, is something along the lines of George Hill and Ian Mahinmi for Jackson and Perkins. Now that I’ve typed it out it probably has a negative infinity percent chance of ever happening.

I can see the logic in the Knicks or Lakers trading for Jackson in order to secure his rights. Both teams are dry on assets to get him, so now you have to look at three or four-team scenarios and it’ll make your brain cramp trying to figure that out.

One longshot idea: if the Nets can find a way to unload Deron Williams, perhaps Jackson makes sense there. The Nets can’t get in position to pursue him as a free agent this summer. But if finding an adequate deal for Jackson looks daunting, imagine the Nets trying to talk someone into taking on the last two years and $43 million on Williams’ deal.

Want an even longer shot idea? Chicago is headed toward a salary crunch next season. They are committed to at least $60 million in salary for next season for 7 players. Jimmy Butler is getting a maximum salary contract from someone, one that will start around $15.5 million. Kirk Hinrich will likely opt in and collect $2.85 million. Then there are the final few roster spots to fill. The luxury tax line is expected to be around $81 million. There’s no urgency to do anything now, and the Bulls could choose to just pay the tax next season and live with it.

However, the Bulls have a front court logjam, so play around with the idea of Joakim Noah to Oklahoma City. Pau Gasol and Noah aren’t meshing particularly well, and Noah’s numbers are down this season. Sam Presti loves “buy low” scenarios. Kendick Perkins used to play for Tom Thibodeau in Boston. The Bulls… have no use for Reggie Jackson. So it’d take another team or two, but there’s a long, long, LONGshot idea.

I hope Noah is open to a different jersey number.

(That loud squeal you just heard was Mrs. Daily Thunder processing the idea of Noah on the Thunder.)

To quote Darnell Mayberry from Monday’s NewsOK Power Lunch chat: “Teams always seem to circle back to such things. I wouldn’t be surprised if it came back up.”

If the Thunder and Nets had discussions about Lopez, I doubt they’re “dead”. Here’s another factor with trades that is often neglected: timing. Larry Bird once described how he pursues trades. He said he keeps a list of players he likes (realistic ones) and keeps eyes and ears on those guys. He may make phone calls and express interest, ask them to give him a shot if they decide to make a trade. That kind of preliminary discussion is probably extremely common. Perhaps both teams have an interest in dealing but want to give it more time and evaluate everything a little more.

Lopez is an interesting player with a frightening history of foot injuries. I think I’d take the chance, even though I think Thunder fans and media personalities would turn on him as quickly as they did Perkins. Sure, Lopez will score some points but I picture him hopelessly defending Howard or Gasol. Maybe it would all come out in the wash.

There are two complications with trading for Lopez. He has a trade kicker, which probably would not be significant enough to derail a trade. He can opt out of his contract after this season, which could be a problem. Lopez has had a bit of a down year so he may not want to opt out anyway. I’d think that if Presti were to acquire him, he’d want some kind of handshake assurance that he would opt in for next season.

As I wrote above, I don’t know that Jackson makes sense in Brooklyn unless they can unload Williams. So it could work, but other pieces might have to move first.

For obvious reasons, Kevin Durant is the dude with the Big Red S on his chest.

Westbrook is Cyborg. Damaged in freak accidents and rebuilt.

Serge Ibaka is Martian Manhunter, because I imagine Martian Manhunter would have a hard time catching passes near the basket.

Nick Collison is Batman. Because he just freakin’ is.

Ish Smith is The Flash.

Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones are The Wonder Twins. Can’t decide which one is Zan and which one is Jayna. One of them will be a bucket of water, for sure. Speaking of, that might also be their trade value as of right now.

Oh, and Lesley McCasslin is Wonder Woman but with blonde hair.

My guess is that your mind is made up and if I went through a bunch of effort to show you his value, it’d be dismissed. I will instead share something written recently by the great Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News:

“Take it from me: So many people not only discount defense, they get angry at people who play it. And angrier at the people who respect it.

Many people just love points-rebounds and only points-rebounds and those people also do not care about anything that happens away from the ball.

Only points-rebounds. Defense is meaningless. Help- and transition-defense is ESPECIALLY meaningless.”

One important clarification: the luxury tax determination is made AFTER the trade. There are some roster-building restrictions that come into play if a team’s payroll is above the luxury tax line. But if that team ends up under the tax line after the trade, those restrictions don’t apply.

And the way things stand now, the Thunder would be under the luxury tax line come July 1. If nothing else changed between now and then, they would probably be some $11 million or so under the tax with Perkins, Collison, Jackson and Sebastian Telfair off the books.

Regardless, if the Thunder remained in tax waters there wouldn’t be any serious limitations to trading Jackson in a sign-and-trade. They would not be able to acquire a player via sign-and-trade if they were still above the tax line after the trade. Likewise, any team that wishes to acquire Jackson (or any other free agent) via sign-and-trade could not end up over the tax line on their end after the trade.

Good question. I’ve mused before that the Thunder could go in-house with assistant coach Rex Kalamian or assistant GM Troy Weaver. The tricky part is finding a coach that doesn’t also want player personnel power.

I’m not particularly crazy about the crop of unemployed coaches out there. As a one-time Knicks fan, I have a soft spot for Jeff Van Gundy but I don’t know that he’s an improvement, and I don’t know that he wants to just coach. If I hear one more person suggest George Karl, I’m hijacking the Internet and showing everyone on the planet his 80-105 postseason coaching record.

One out-of-left-field possibility, because these are fun to throw around: Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg. The NBA noise will surround him as long as he’s in Ames, Iowa.

I think Pleiss is very likely to come over this summer. If the Thunder acquired a big man under contract through next season, it could jeopardize that plan. I think Abrines is at least another year out. Anthony Morrow’s contract is not guaranteed for 2016-17. That might be Abrines’ time to come over.

I once thought this was possible but not really anymore, barring a complete 180 degree turnaround in Jackson’s play and overall view on basketball life. Here’s something else to consider: another team could structure an offer sheet so that it’s not just unappetizing financially, but in other ways.

Most people recall that Chandler Parsons got a 3-year offer sheet from Dallas worth over $45 million. The devil, however, was in the details. The offer sheet was for two seasons with a player option for a third season. Many teams, Oklahoma City included, aren’t fans of player options. It gives power to the player and takes away valuable flexibility.

So let’s say Houston matches that offer for Parsons. They could not trade Parsons for one year without his consent, and couldn’t deal him to Dallas at all for that first year. Found a deal with Timberwolves that you love? Sorry, Parsons can veto it.

So Houston waits a year and can finally deal him without restriction. Now Parsons can opt out of his contract in a year and become a free agent again. What’s his trade value then? Or what if Parsons has been a colossal bust and is now an overpaid version of Landry Fields? (Fields snagged a large offer sheet from the Raptors in 2012 because they wanted to scare the Knicks into not matching it. The Knicks declined and Fields has been an expensive dud).

The other consideration for Houston was the 2016-17 season. They want to keep the books clean so they can pursue you-know-who. Matching Parsons’ offer sheet might have clobbered that plan. I think the Rockets would have done it had Chris Bosh accepted their offer but once he went back to Miami, the Rockets set their sights on 2016.

I bring this up because this is the situation Oklahoma City faced with James Harden and it’s one they could face with Jackson. It’s not always the millions of dollars a team has to consider. They have to think about how that deal could restrict their options.

I don’t think Perkins is back next season. Either the team brings in Pleiss or they will acquire another big man in a trade by then. If Nick Collison wasn’t re-signed for some bizarre reason, then perhaps Perkins could return on a veteran minimum deal. But if I had to place a bet, I’d bet on Perkins playing elsewhere next season.

It’s possible. That’s a path to unrestricted free agency that comes with enormous risk for both parties. The Thunder’s ability to trade him in that scenario becomes extremely limited and Jackson has to hope for a healthy and productive season. It’s happened before – this is the situation Detroit’s Greg Monroe finds himself in now – but it’s not the ideal situation for anybody.

I think so? Again, the Thunder have issues that I believe are correctable. Barring any other significant, long-term injuries I still think this team makes the postseason.

I’d say Oklahoma City says no. I don’t know that it’s enough for Jackson. I’m not terribly impressed with Hardaway, Jr. I don’t think Smith brings enough defensively to offset losing Perkins.

Calderon is getting mentioned a lot around these parts. I’ve written about him some, but the reality is that he’s 33 years old, slow of foot defensively, and is owed nearly $15 million over the next two seasons. He doesn’t strike me as the kind of player Presti seeks out. That last year, as you mentioned, is a problem. Calderon would be 35 and owed $7.7 million. Even with the salary cap potentially making a big leap that year, I don’t think they want that money on the books. They could find other options at lower prices to adequately fill that backup role.

Team salaries are frozen as of the last day of the season and that’s what determines your tax bill, if any. In reality, teams that want to get under the tax should do so by the trade deadline. There’s a long story involving Chicago from last season. They worked most of the season to get under the tax, but came to realize late in the season that Noah and/or Taj Gibson could get bonuses and put them right back into the tax. That’s why they waived Erik Murphy in April of last year and arranged for Utah to pluck him off waivers.

Logic dictates that if the Thunder does nothing else, they jettison Lamb and slip back under the tax. That could still happen, but if the Thunder wound up in the tax at season’s end, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Email from Patrick Mwebaze:

Biggest worry. This team is not smart or urgent. Darnell talked about it on the podcast. I thought the missed games would make play with urgency for 48 minutes. I feel like they won’t win until they get this. Please talk me off the ledge. And biggest problem with Brooks is his not holding the stars accountable.

It’s almost like this team needs to be humbled. They’ve had so much success over the years by just showing up and out athlete-ing other teams. Now other teams are hungry and some (like the Warriors) have shaken a lot of bad habits that are common with young teams. I also believe there are agendas on this team that are getting in the way. Jackson, clearly, has a rather large agenda. Serge Ibaka seems as though he’s out to prove he’s the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki and that’s come at the expense of what’s made him a borderline All-Star. And then there’s the continued reckless and sloppy play that makes me want to de-bark trees. This was understandable back in 2009. You’d think they would have outgrown most of it by now.

As for Brooks, I don’t envy him or any other professional coach. Managing talent is a challenge in a number of industries, whether it’s pro athletes, artists, musicians, application developers, television/radio personalities… it’s tough. Can’t treat them like people that are otherwise replaceable in their position. It’s that challenge that makes the likes of Jackson, Riley, and Krzyzewski legendary.

I don’t know what the answer is for this delicate situation. Maybe they’ve tuned Brooks out. Maybe some of the players have learned what they can get away with, knowing the repercussions will be slim or none. Maybe Brooks has lost the team. Not saying they don’t like him. It’s fair to wonder if they are tuning him out. And if so, that’s a big problem.