Reggie Jackson is once again on the trade block and the New Orleans Pelicans are again linked to possible interest. At the trade deadline, Zach Lowe of ESPN went deep on the Detroit Pistons and their malfunction while also connecting the Pels to Jackson — reading it is highly recommended. Undoubtedly, it will be quoted frequently in this article.
Monday, Jason Calmes of Bourbon Street Shots took a long hard look at the Pelicans salary cap and came away worried. To summarize, New Orleans lacks flexibility due to the hard cap set at the apron (roughly $125 million) and the Pelicans are avoiding (up to this point) making moves that would trigger it. There are three methods to activate the hard cap; acquiring a player in a sign-and-trade, using the Bi-Annual Exception, or using the non-taxpayer mid-level exception. The last part is a bit tricky, but the limitations here are money (no more than about $5.2 million) and length (no more than three years). Go over the amount or the length and the Pelicans are using the non-taxpayer exception.
However, there is much more detail there that Jason explains extremely well. You should go read it.
Toward the end of the piece, Jason discusses that the Pelicans are functionally all-in this season. This idea has been a frequent topic in our own writers’ chats in the past couple months and most of our own contributors have agreed: push the chips in. It is now or never for the Pelicans with rolling deadlines every 12 months. Next July DeMarcus Cousins will be an unrestricted free agent. In 2019 the Pelicans will be eligible to offer Anthony Davis a designated veteran extension before he begins his final season under contract.
Nail this year and Cousins probably re-signs. Re-sign Cousins and the probability of keeping Anthony Davis increases substantially. Keep two legitimate stars on your roster for a half decade and see what else happens. Maybe the team hits on a lower first round pick, or a third star (cough, John Wall, cough) forces his way to play with the Bourbon Street Bullies. (This is my favorite nickname thus far and bestowed by Jordan Crawford.)
Reggie Jackson though?
I understand your apprehension. I, too, am not terribly thrilled about the prospect, yet let’s talk it out. Jackson is on a pretty large contract and is owed $51 million over the next three years. All for a player that battled knee tendinitis most of the season and looked like much less of a threat for it.
And then Jackson's knee started hurting. Detroit pivoted into a faster, more egalitarian offense to paper over Jackson's absence. When Jackson returned, he tried to mix his off-the-bounce game with Detroit's new style. It didn't work, mostly because Jackson wasn't the same player. He couldn't turn into the corner and zoom into the lane as easily. When defenses pressured him on the pick-and-roll, Jackson picked up his dribble right away and tossed a rote swing pass:
Distress signals blared: Jackson pulled up for more midrange jumpers, and produced fewer drives, free throws, and shots at the rim. He's shooting a ghastly 49.5 percent in the restricted area.
I wondered if Jackson got a little pep in his step after the All-Star Break. Nope. He shot even worse in the restricted area according to NBA Stats after the All-Star Break than before. Jackson shot worse from the floor and worse behind the arc while creating fewer assists per 100 possessions. He also created vastly fewer free throws. All this while the Pistons were in the thick of the playoff race. Jackson was shut down in late March and the comments from head coach Stan Van Gundy demonstrate that Jackson might not have ever been 100 percent last season.
He’s been a warrior. He’s tried to fight through it. He’s been frustrated, because he sees openings and things on the court that he just hasn’t been able to get to. I think part of it is a confidence thing.
And I think the thing that we really look forward to, and he looks forward to, is getting a fresh start in the offseason and being able to go through the preparation for a season like he did last year. And not only get right physically, but really get his confidence back to be able to attack and make the plays he’s had.
Who is Reggie Jackson? He’s a far more ball dominant point guard than Jrue Holiday, and for many of us who have clamored for a more assertive presence running the offense, Jackson certainly checks that box. As a guard, Jackson would immediately be the most alpha personality (on the floor) New Orleans has encountered since Chris Paul. This guy had no problem forcing mid range pull ups with Kevin Durant on the court in Oklahoma City.
At his peak in Detroit, Jackson was a force of nature in the pick and roll with Andre Drummond. This past season, not so much. Jackson passed less frequently (22.0% in 2017 compared to 27.3% in 2016) and shot far worse (44.9% to 49.0% in 2016) as he was simply unable to turn the corner on drives consistently. Attempts at the rim decreased and Jackson relied even more on pulling up from mid range. Jackson is an excellent shooter inside the arc, and shooting nearly 44% from 10 feet to the three point line may open up things for Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. However, as we’ve seen in the modern NBA, teams are content to not only allow that shot, but encourage it.
For Jackson to thrive in NOLA, he would need to revert to that 2016 form, in which case this offense could be extremely dangerous even with the lack of traditional spacing. Movement, both of players and the ball, can create opportunities in unconventional ways. If Chris Finch can work magic with Jameer Nelson (and admittedly Nikola Jokic), he can find a way to get a healthy Reggie Jackson to pry the opposition open when flanked by Jrue Holiday, DeMarcus Cousins, and Anthony Davis.
A healthy Jackson is a passable defender, especially when paired with Jrue Holiday who will routinely draw the most difficult assignment. Surrounding Jackson with Holiday and Hill on the perimeter is a substantial upgrade from what we saw last year (Tim Frazier) or could possibly see this year if a guard is not acquired (Quinn Cook). If Jackson is still not 100%, defense gets slightly more problematic but remember New Orleans was competent even with a green rookie (Buddy Hield) logging significant time. If there is one area the Pelicans can take a big risk, it is on the defensive end at shooting guard considering the rest of the lineup.
As for Jackson’s contract, it would further constrain the Pelicans against the luxury tax unless New Orleans sends out more salary than E’Twaun Moore and Alexis Ajinca. Including Quincy Pondexter could help in that regard. Pondexter has been adamant on Twitter that he is going to play this year and I must admit at times I think of how valuable he could be to this team if he starts bombing away behind the arc once again.
If you’re looking into the future and dreaming big, Jackson’s contract is a far easier pill for Washington to swallow if John Wall decides he wants to team up with his Kentucky buddies in the Big Easy next summer compared to trading Jrue Holiday’s far larger contract. Those future dominoes are a part of this discussion.
Trading for Jackson may not (honestly, almost certainly is not) be the ultimate goal, but a stepping stone to something greater. A playoff berth and rehabbing his image could build trade value and help the Pelicans swing the next big move. Along the way, New Orleans gets a much needed commitment from DeMarcus Cousins next summer and pushes the doomsday clock ahead another year.