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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



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.




NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson

Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.

Ben Nadeau



Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?

Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.

“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”

Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.

While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.

Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.

“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”

Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.

“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.

Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.

Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.

But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.

“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”

When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.

And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.

“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”

One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.

“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”

And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.

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Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?

Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.

Shane Rhodes



The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.

With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.

It couldn’t get worse, could it?

Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.

In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.

The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.

Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.

The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.

Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.

Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?

If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.

Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.

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NBA Daily: Houston Has It All

Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.

Lang Greene



It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.

So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.

As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.

Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.

One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.

Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.

Floor Generalship

Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.

This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.

Small Ball Ready

Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.

At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.


When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.

Shooting, Versatility and Experience

All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.

Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.


Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.

With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.

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