Reggie Jackson tries to steady Thunder without Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook

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BOSTON – Reggie Jackson is the last player remaining in the Thunder’s locker room, and the team’s final bus is scheduled to leave in a few minutes.

He frantically throws items into his shaving kit. He grabs his hoodie, clumsily knocking its hanger onto the floor.

Then, he reaches for the top shelf of his locker.

“Got my baby,” Jackson said as he clutches his basketball.

Growing up, basketball helped Jackson, the son of an Air Force officer, find his way while moving between Italy, England, North Dakota, Georgia, Florida and Colorado. Now, those frequent moves are helping Jackson – at one of the NBA’s most interesting crossroads – find his way in basketball.

Jackson was the only player last season to start 40 games and come off the bench in 40 games, including the playoffs, but that understates the volatility of his role. He has played point guard shooting guard. He has played with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant and without those two stars. He has been asked to lead and asked to follow.

If navigating these ever-changing roles weren’t enough, Jackson is preparing to become a free agent next summer, his first chance at a monster NBA payday.

“I think moving has really helped,” Jackson said. “I never really know what tomorrow is going to bring, so it makes it easy for me to just go out there and just work as hard as I can to be the best player I can. Then, whatever circumstance I’m thrown in, I just try to go out there and perform to the best of my ability.”

Lately, the circumstances have meant playing without Durant and Westbrook, both whom aren’t expected back until next month as they rehab from injury. In their absence, Jackson is leading Oklahoma City with 22.8 points and 7.5 assists per game.

He’s filling the role he always envisioned for himself: starting in the NBA.

“I came out and said I wanted to be a starter, so I have to take this opportunity head on,” Jackson said.

At times, the adjustment has been rocky. In Jackson’s first game of the season, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka froze him out after he played selfishly.

“Reggie can play. He can flat out play, Perkins said. “I think the thing that Reggie has to learn is how to make other people better.”

Oklahoma City is scoring just 99.5 points per 100 possessions with Jackson on the court. Though that’s better than when he sits, the mark would rank in the league’s bottom 10.

Still, it’s unfair to blame Jackson for all the Thunder’s offensive problems. Even beyond Westbrook and Durant, they’re missing several players due to injury, and Jackson has a larger – positive – sample on his résumé. Last season, Oklahoma City scored a respectable 106.8 points per 100 possessions with Jackson on and Westbrook off the court.

Give Jackson a decent supporting cast, and the results could turn quickly. With Anthony Morrow seeing extended minutes for the first time this season after injury, the Thunder played their best offensive game last night in a 109-94 win over the Celtics, posting an offensive rating of 118.9.

Jackson, who had 28 points and eight assists, made good on Boston coach Brad Stevens’ pregame fears of the Oklahoma City point guard crashing into the paint. Jackson shot 10-for-10 from the free-throw line, and he matched that inside game with strong 3-point shooting, including this deep bomb to end the third quarter.

Even more impressive that that buzzer beater, at least in the long term, was Jackson’s interactions with Steven Adams a few minutes earlier.

Before the game, Thunder coach Scott Brooks explained Jackson’s role while Westbrook and Durant sit.

“Continue to lead as that point guard,” Brooks said. “That’s the job of a point guard. It’s to be an extension on the floor of the coach, and he’s done a good job with that.

In that same media session, Brooks also emphasized getting center Steven Adams more involved offensively.

Jackson took care of that by throwing Adams and alley-oop and then setting him up for another good look at the basket. When Boston called timeout, Jackson got in Adams face to hype him up.

“I’m a point guard. That’s my job, to be a coach on the floor,” Jackson said, echoing his coach’s pregame comments. “I was just in his to let him know keep going.”

Can Jackson, who knows his role will change again soon, keep going?

When Durant and Westbrook return, Jackson will return to being a third (or maybe fourth behind Ibaka) option. He’ll get better shots but less of them, and he’ll have fewer opportunities with the ball in his hands.

These are his final opportunities to prove to other teams, not only that he can be a starting point guard, but that he’s worth the huge offer sheet necessary to pry him from Oklahoma City. Whether or not Jackson actually wants to leave the Thunder to start elsewhere – which he reportedly does – it’d be nice to have the option.

For the Thunder, who committed not to trading Jackson  like Harden when they couldn’t agree to an extension with him, a dangerous and costly standoff could lurk ahead.

Jackson, joining Daequan Cook and Robert Swift, is slated to become just the franchise’s third player on a rookie-scale contract to become a restricted free agent since Sam Presti became general manager in 2007. Everyone else either signed an extension (Ibaka, Westbrook, Durant and Thabo Sefolosha), was traded (Eric Maynor, James Harden, Lazar Hayward, Cole Aldrich, D.J. White, Byron Mullens, Jeff Green, Johan Petro and Delonte West) or was waived (Mouhamed Sene) before getting that far.

Obviously, Jackson’s negotiations will be much higher stake than Cook’s and Swift’s. The Thunder, who already have $63,569,558 in committed salary for next season plus whatever they agreed to pay Josh Huestis, will carefully consider the luxury-tax implications of keeping Jackson.

What team will Jackson play for? What position will he play? Will he start?

The answers, total mysteries for next season, are only slightly clearer for the rest of this season.

After a childhood of not knowing where he’d live, Jackson is taking the uncertainty in stride.

“I can only deal with today,” Jackson said. “Life is day by day. So, I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I’m not worried about.”

Report: Celtics “most likely” offer Jayson Tatum a max contract after season

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This should not be a surprise.

Jayson Tatum is a cornerstone of the Celtics now and going forward: 23.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game, an efficient 56.2 true shooting percentage, a shot creator, an athletic finisher at the rim, and a guy who shot 39.8 percent from three. Tatum was an All-Star in his third season and will draw third-team All-NBA votes (whenever those votes happen).

Tatum is eligible for an extension to his rookie contract after this season. Is he worth a full max contract? Yes, especially considering he is 22 and still improving by leaps each season.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on SportsCenter the Celtics are expected to offer Tatum the max (hat tip Bleacher Report).

“If Jayson Tatum is the superstar that they envisioned when they began this whole rebuilding process when they traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for all of those draft picks hoping to land a player like this, we could see ‘Glory Days’ for the Celtics again. But it’s very much up in the air, and I’m gonna tell ya, they’re gonna have to pay him like it because after this season ends, he is going to get most likely a max contract. They’re going to bet that he becomes that player.”

It’s fair to argue that max contracts should be reserved for true alphas, true No. 1s and maybe a few No. 2 players on a team, and that Tatum has yet to prove he is one of those. Boston would be betting he becomes that player — but right now that looks like a good bet. More importantly, last summer the Celtics locked up Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown on four-year contracts, sign Tatum and the Celtics have a core that will have them at or near the top of the East for years.

Exactly what a max contract will look like this coming off-season after the coronavirus hit to the league’s finances is another question, one nobody has an answer to right now. Under the old cap, it would have been $181 million over five years (and if he made All-NBA teams it could jump to $218 million), but those numbers don’t apply to the new reality. Even if Tatum signs the max offer this summer, he will make his $9.9 million next season then be paid whatever the max is for him starting in the 2021-22 season (and again, it’s impossible to say what the league’s finances will be at that point).

Pay the man his money.  Expect Boston to make the offer whenever the offseason arrives.

Zion Williamson’s attorneys work to avoid him answering questions about improper benefits at Duke

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MIAMI (AP) — Attorneys for NBA rookie Zion Williamson seek to block his former marketing agent’s effort to have the ex-Duke star answer questions about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils.

In a Florida court filing last week, Williamson’s attorneys say those questions are “nothing more than a fishing expedition aimed at tarnishing Williamson’s reputation” and designed to “maximize potential embarrassment and media coverage in an attempt to improperly gain settlement leverage.”

“Plaintiffs’ irrelevant and invasive requests are designed to harass and not calculated to lead to discovery of relevant evidence,” Friday’s filing states.

It is the latest exchange in the fight over the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick’s endorsement potential.

Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford filed her lawsuit last summer in Florida, accusing Williamson and the agency now representing him of breach of contract. Williamson filed his own lawsuit a week earlier in North Carolina to terminate a five-year contract with Prime Sports after moving to Creative Artists Agency LLC.

Ford’s attorneys had submitted questions this month asking whether the New Orleans Pelicans rookie or anyone on his behalf sought or accepted “money, benefits, favors or things of value” to sign with Duke. Those filings – offering no evidence of wrongdoing by Williamson or his family – sought answers within 30 days to establish facts under oath in the pretrial discovery process.

Williamson’s attorneys seek a stay while appealing the December denial of their motion to dismiss the Florida case based on lack of jurisdiction, or a protective order as an alternative.

At the heart of the dueling lawsuits over Williamson’s marketing rights is this: Williamson says the contract he signed with Prime Sports is illegal under North Carolina’s Uniform Athlete Agent Act (UAAA) because Ford was not registered with North Carolina to negotiate with amateur athletes (which Zion was at the time, having just played for Duke). Ford and Prime dispute that, saying this was a legal and binding negotiation.

One key reason NBA may return with 22 teams: Players want regular-season games

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Nothing is set in stone about an NBA return — at least not until next Thursday — but momentum seems to be building behind a plan that would bring 22 teams to the Orlando bubble.

That plan brings every team within six games of the playoffs when the season was halted into the competition, a total of 22 teams (13 from the West and nine from the East, the playoff teams plus Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Washington). There would be some regular-season games played, likely five to eight, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff seeds, then the playoffs with full seven-game series each round. Exactly what that play-in tournament would look and if the NBA would stick with the conference playoff alignment or seed 1-16 is up in the air (although the conference alignment seems to have more backing).

Why that plan? For one, it gets more cities and more fan bases involved — and it happens to bring Zion Williamson and the Pelicans into the mix, a big television draw. It also could help a few teams reach a 70-game broadcast threshold with local broadcasters.

Mostly, however, the players want it because they get some games under them before the playoffs start, something Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported on at ESPN.

Regardless of how many teams are ultimately included in the playoffs, the National Basketball Players Association has consistently stressed that it wants several regular-season games to be played prior to the start of the playoffs, sources said. That has been a prevailing sentiment among several contending teams that prefer a tuneup before beginning the postseason, sources said.

A lot of players — influential players — have pushed for some regular season or meaningful games before the playoffs start. It’s about health, as trainers told us at NBC Sports, go from zero to 100 jumping straight into the playoffs and teams are asking for injuries. Players understand that.

Maybe only 20 teams end up in Orlando, that plan is on the table as well, but either way expect some regular-season games before the playoffs start. If the powerful players want it to happen, it will.

PBT Podcast: 2020 NBA Mock Draft crossover podcast, Part Deux

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We’re back at it… and not just drinking beer during a podcast. Although we do that, too.

For the third consecutive season, Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk and I collaborated for a first-round mock draft. Rob knows the prospects better than anyone; I provide some knowledge about what the teams might be looking for. The result is a unique listening experience breaking down who will be picked where based on fit.

The first ten picks can be found over on the College Basketball Talk feed.

Here we finish off the lottery and run through the entire rest of the first round.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.