In fact, the fourth-year Thunder player will reportedly seek an offer sheet next summer that allows him to escape Russell Westbrook’s shadow and become a starting point guard elsewhere.
For Jackson to succeed in that mission, he must first handle a tricky balance this season. He has to prove his own abilities while meshing with a team that began the season with realistic championship aspirations.
When Jackson made his season debut Monday after an ankle injury, some thought he handled that conflict poorly in a 31-point loss to the Nets.
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 wasn’t proud of his actions, either.
“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.”
Maybe Jackson was too selfish. He probably was.
But I’m not totally convinced that’s a contract-year issue. The Thunder aren’t used to playing without Kevin Durant and Westbrook, and it’s not easy for the remaining players to just pick up that scoring. There will be growing pains as everyone adjusts to new roles without the teams’ stars, and Jackson is the natural choice as the first option now.
I am convinced it’s a frustrating time in Oklahoma City. The Thunder, 1-4, haven’t lost four of five since the 2013 playoffs. They’re not accustomed to losing, and that can bring out ugly tendencies – like a player in a contract year hogging the ball or veterans refusing to pass to a younger player.
It’s good Perkins acknowledged he went too far, and Jackson can respond by better involving his teammates. This will probably wind up a minor incident.
Still, it certainly seems like it could be part of a bigger issue – Jackson changing his game in a contract year, the Thunder exasperating their struggles by reacting poorly to them or both.