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Reggie Jackson Determined To Join Thunder’s Starting Lineup

Reggie Jackson opened up completely about his fixation on being a starting player for the Thunder.

Susan Bible

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There are very few, if any, surprises revealed by players or coaches during Media Day, an annual event held by each NBA team just prior to the start of training camp. These question-and-answer sessions typically involve banal talk of what the players did during the offseason, what they expect for the coming season and impressions of incoming players. While these and related topics were indeed discussed at the various teams’ sessions, something rare happened this year at the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Media Day when guard Reggie Jackson took the microphone.

Jackson became emotional when describing why he will not be satisfied until he locks down a regular starting role. He made his desire known during exit interviews last season when he simply disclosed he would like a starting role. His statement garnered attention back then; fast forward four months, and Jackson has now elevated his stance to a proclamation.

“I want to be a starter,” Jackson said. “I’ve always wanted to be a starter. I’ve always wanted to be great. All the greats I’ve seen started, so that’s kind of the mold.”

That statement wasn’t necessarily the surprising part. It was his accompanying heartfelt and earnest explanation regarding why starting was so important to him that brought the media room to a collective standstill. As Jackson spoke of his childhood dreams, he was candid and quietly impassioned. Some may discount his spiritual-laced words; others will completely understand.

“I’ve always had confidence in myself,” Jackson said. “I’ve definitely had doubts in myself, but most of the time, I’m a very confident individual. I believe I put in the work, and I believe I’m blessed by my God to do some miraculous things. I think we all have (been blessed) in life, and we’ve just got to find out what it is. I just want to go out there and compete, and I guess that’s probably where my competitive nature comes from.

“I feel like I’m blessed beyond wildest measures. So to me, I don’t want to – this is just how I feel, I don’t know how people will take it – I don’t want to disrespect my God by settling. I think me and everybody else has a reason and a chance to go out there and be great in whatever aspect they want in life, and I’ve always tried to do my best. That’s kind of how I approach life. My family taught me, and especially my brothers growing up, that I always wanted a chance to be great. That’s my destiny.”

It was a moving statement and real moment shared by a basketball player and the media who cover him. Realistically, though, how can Jackson work into a starting role for this Thunder team? He is a 6’3 point guard, and the Thunder already have an All-Star player at that position in Russell Westbrook. Jackson got a taste of life as a Thunder starter last season when Westbrook was sidelined by a third knee procedure. He started in 36 games as the floor general, averaging 14.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists in 31.2 minutes. In his 44 games as reserve, he averaged 12.3 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 26.2 minutes. When coach Scott Brooks decided that then-starting two-guard Thabo Sefolosha wasn’t getting the job done in the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, he inserted Jackson into the starting lineup mid-series along with Westbrook in the backcourt. The experiment was deemed a success, leading to hopes that this backcourt duo could work in the long-term. Jackson was the third leading scorer (11.8 points) in the series, starting in four of the six games.

With Sefolosha departing Oklahoma City in the offseason, the starting two-guard position is wide open. Training camp should prove to be a battleground with Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson and Anthony Morrow all vying to nab the starting slot. If Jackson fails to earn a starting role by the season opener, the team may have a disgruntled teammate on their hands. Of course, Brooks may finally see the advantage of crafting lineups based on matchups, which would surely result in Jackson logging time as a starter, but it may not be enough to satisfy him.

“He always tells me he wants to be a starter,” Lamb said of Jackson’s aspirations. “If you don’t want to be the starter (or) try to be the best, then there’s something wrong with you. Of course, we both want to be the best. We both are trying to get better every year.”

Many feel Jackson is the ideal sixth man for the Thunder and wish he would just embrace this specific role. His ability to lead the second unit and put points on the board are valuable and needed traits. However, a sixth man role is not what he wants.

“I want a chance to be great,” Jackson said. “If it doesn’t work, oh well, at least I tried. That’s just how I feel. The best ones I remember have always been starters. I can’t recall a super sixth man. I never thought it growing up, I never felt like that.

“They make great contributions, and it takes everybody to be on a team,” he added quickly. “I’m not doubting that.”

Please take no offense, Manu Ginobili.

“No, he’s special,” Jackson pointed out about the Spurs’ sixth man. “Things he’s done back in his community, the things he’s done in Argentina, what he’s accomplished in this league. I want the majority of my time to be spent playing against other starters. I want to play against the best. I want to play against Chris Paul. I want to play against Kyrie Irving. I want to be considered playing against those guys. I want to be mentioned in the highest of levels. I want to get a chance to just go out and play and be the best I can be, to be considered among the best. I want to be the best.”

This is an athlete who carries deeply-held convictions about his place in the world. Every word he spoke was presented with sincerity and refreshing honesty. Would Jackson ever be content with the Thunder’s sixth man role?

“I can be content, but I’ll still always want to be better,” Jackson said. “I can be the number-one player at my position at point guard in the league, but I’ll still want to be the best player in the league. I want to be the best in the world. That’s how I wake up every day. That’s how I approach my workouts. That’s just how I am. That’s just who I am.”

You certainly can’t knock a guy for wanting to be the best in his field. Not many players purposefully set out to become the best reserve in the NBA. However, the reality of the situation must become clear to Jackson. He’s a very talented player, but he has room for improvement. He outlined those aspects of his game that need work.

“Technically, just improving my shot,” Jackson said. “Of course, I stay aggressive in attacking the basket, but I continue to work on my long-range shot, three-point, outside (shot). I’m putting in a lot of reps. I may not see that shot at all, but I’m just comfortable throwing up from wherever it is on the floor. Russ and KD can shoot from anywhere. Just get better on the three-point, that’s where I have to make the biggest leap. Getting comfortable to where I can find shots in the mid-range or I can hit that consistently and make plays for the rest of my team to be the best teammate and player I can be.”

Unfortunately, that list didn’t include the one critical area that needs the most attention: developing solid defense. That’s the Thunder’s calling card. Sefolosha is a long-armed defensive-stopper, who was charged with guarding opponents’ best shooters while he was in Oklahoma City. Others may be better suited for the role, such as two-way player Lamb, sharpshooter Morrow or defensive-minded Roberson. Still, Jackson remains undeterred; he’s set on proving to Brooks that he deserves the starting position.

“I’ve got to show them I’m the best candidate for it,” Jackson said of the two-guard opening. “Be the player I know I am. That job has certain aspects to fulfill it. I’m just going to focus on being myself while in camp. I don’t figure out who makes the rotations or anything like that. I guess in my mind maybe I do – how things I would like maybe for them to go – but after that, it’s not what I get paid to do. I tried to improve my game this the summer, and hopefully I can show that. If not, there’s nothing I can do about it.”

One thing he can do is sign a contract extension with the Thunder. Now entering his fourth year in the league, Jackson, 24, is eligible and both sides appear to be working on it. Whether it gets done by the October 31 deadline is not clear. Should an extension not be signed, Jackson would then hit restricted free agency next summer. In this crazy market, the Thunder may or may not be willing to match other offers.

Sam Presti, the Thunder’s general manager and executive vice president, addressed Jackson’s future and potential contract extension at his annual preseason press conference.

“We want to invest in Reggie,” said Presti, according to The Oklahoman. “There’s not a lack of clarity in that regard. I think we’ve been pretty clear about his importance to the team. We see him as a core member of the team, a core member of the organization.

“These things aren’t easy to do,” he said with regard to completing an extension by the deadline. “But we’re gonna give it our maximum, best chance to make it happen, knowing that if it doesn’t, we come back at it next summer and pick it up again.”

As for a possible preseason trade, akin to the James Harden surprise trade, Presti said, “That’s just not something we’ve considered. He’s a guy we see being here for a long time.”

These sound like reassuring words, but is it sufficient reassurance to believe in his long-term future in OKC?

“My representation and Sam and the Thunder organization, they’re talking,” Jackson shared. “We’ve got a month to try to get things done; hopefully we can figure that out. I definitely like being a part of this team. Let’s just hope they make progress on things. It’s not something that anybody has to talk about anymore or think about it and we can just focus on the season.”

That’s not going to be the case. This topic will be discussed ad nauseam until resolution comes, one way or another. In the meantime, Jackson is focused on aiming for the top.

“It’s hard to believe I’m in my fourth year,” Jackson said. “I’m just blessed. I don’t want anybody to ever believe I’m not thankful. I’m blessed to even be one of 450 (NBA players). To wake up, I’m blessed. To be here, I’m so thankful just to be in this position. I’ve just always wanted more. I’ve always wanted a chance at just more. I’ve always strived to be in the top percentile of whatever I’m doing in life. I want to be the best person I can be. I want to be the best at my craft. I just strive to be great in everything that I do. I can be content, but I still want more.”

Jackson held nothing back, giving us a full account of who he is at his very core and how he expects his professional life to unfold. His stint with the Thunder may not fulfill his lofty desires, but such a designed focus should keep him always moving forward.

Susan Bible covers the Oklahoma City Thunder for Basketball Insiders and writes about all NBA teams. She is a Senior Newslines Editor and contributes to fantasy basketball coverage.

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NBA PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors

Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.

Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.

The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.

Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.

Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.

Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.

When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.

“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”

Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.

Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.

In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.

“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”

It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”

“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”

Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.

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Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors

Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions

Spencer Davies

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Opening week is finally upon us.

Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.

The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.

In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.

Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.

But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.

The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.

What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.

That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.

Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.

Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.

Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.

It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.

As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.

Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.

Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.

Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.

The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.

Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.

The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.

If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.

See you at tip-off.

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NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season

NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.

Ben Dowsett

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The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.

In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.

Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.

Features

New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:

  • Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
  • A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
  • A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
  • Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
  • Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
  • NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.

Pricing

Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:

  • Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
  • Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
  • NBA Team Pass: $119.99
  • Single Game Pass: $6.99
  • Virtual Reality package: $49.99
  • Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
  • Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
  • NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99

Notes

As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).

This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.

Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.

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