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Reggie Jackson Hopes Less Is More With the Clippers

After forcing his way out of Oklahoma City and forcing just about everything for five years in Detroit, Jackson is finally heading back to a winning team. Will a reduced role prove to be a blessing?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

A little winning for Reggie Jackson, as a treat. The Detroit Pistons agreed to a buyout with the veteran point guard on Tuesday, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The 29-year-old plans to sign with the Clippers once he clears waivers. Jackson is the second big name to leave Detroit this month, after the franchise traded cornerstone Andre Drummond to the Cavaliers at the deadline.

Jackson has been absent for the majority of the 2019-20 season. He injured his back in October, and went on to miss the next 42 games. His production has been fine since his return in late January, averaging 16.6 points and 5.3 assists over 12 games. It’s an apt representation of Jackson’s overall time in Detroit. Regularly absent, with the occasional bright spot. The most memorable thing about his tenure with the organization is how long it seemed to last. The contract that would never end—the five-year, $80 million deal that Jackson signed in 2015—was actually, really, seriously, I promise, I checked, set to expire this summer. The quotes from that press conference in 2015 are hilarious in retrospect: “The only thing that mattered in this whole process with us,” said then–coach and president Stan Van Gundy, “was to make sure we got him signed long term.”

A string of injuries derailed Jackson’s potential in Detroit. The point guard even said he contemplated cutting his career short. “A few years back, I thought [my future] was retirement after this season. I was just getting injured too much and I had hit basketball depression,” he told The Detroit News. He played a full 82 games for the first time in his career last season, only to miss more than half of this one. Health held him back in Detroit, as did the situation. Jackson was paired with a traditional center and an old-timey coach. He was hellbent on proving to his former team that there weren’t limits to his game. There were.

Signing with the Clippers is an auspicious start to phase three of Jackson’s career. He knows who he is now (I hope). A willing driver, playmaker, semi-uncharitable ball handler, shooter (he’s making 37.8 percent of his 3s this season), and a heedless defender. All of which is to say, he’s a proper backup. Jackson wanted to escape Oklahoma City because he felt otherwise—that he deserved to be a starter, a captain, a primary option, and free of the shadow created by a Thunder team full of dons. Some players can never quiet that voice telling them that they’re being shorted of what they deserve (Jackson’s former teammate Dion Waiters, for example). Jackson hasn’t been in a reserve role in five years. Now he’s joining the deepest team in the West.

The Clippers already have multiple quality ball handlers. Jackson will be jockeying for time at the point guard position with Patrick Beverley; Lou Williams, a.k.a. the three-time reigning Sixth Man of the Year; and Landry Shamet. There’s a lot going on in that space already, though the Clippers do love a good insurance policy. They’ve got two superstars and two Sixth Man of the Year candidates, and acquired Marcus Morris at the deadline.

The rotation is packed, especially for Jackson, who would likely have seen much more time on the court with a team like the Lakers. They could’ve really used a point guard. Instead, a notorious Bet On Himself guy is signing on to play on a Clippers team loaded with options. Jackson is friends with Paul George, so maybe that’s what pushed him. It’s also possible he believes in the Clippers’ chances more, or that the Lakers preferred to stand pat. Still, it’s implausible that Jackson wasn’t given some assurance that he’d see the court. I mean how good of a friend is Paul George? Asking for a friend!

While Jackson adds to the Clippers’ embarrassment of riches, the Pistons have little to nothing left. Another season will pass Blake Griffin—knee surgery this time, in January—and his various ailing body parts by. It was flabbergasting that the Clippers found a team to take on Griffin’s massive max contract in the first place; the Pistons can’t, unfortunately, trade him to the Pistons. With Drummond and Jackson gone, the question for Detroit now becomes what’s next. The only clear answer right now is that it won’t involve Jackson or Drummond.

A couple of weeks ago, when Jackson was still with the Pistons, I watched him miss two consecutive closing shots against the Nuggets. Less than a minute was left in the fourth quarter, and the game was tied 111-111. He whiffs on the first shot, then gets the ball back, drives, pulls for a floater with a fourth of a second remaining, and dings it. I remember wondering whether Jackson has just had really bad luck all these years. Hard to tell with a player who’s always forcing it. Jackson had the green light he so desired for many years in Detroit, a contained experiment for his ego and his wallet. He’ll never have the autonomy of a superstar ever again, but at least now he will be among them.