To be frank, we’re entering a time and cap boom where a lot of contracts just aren’t going to make sense to the casual eye. Teams have shown a willingness to sign or re-sign players to deals that look well above their market value now, but may look like bargain deals when the cap is projected to jump to $90M next year, and $108M the year after that. While that thinking is understandable, there’s still a lot of controversy around the contract the Detroit Pistons gave Reggie Jackson.
The Pistons re-upped the former Thunder guard to a five-year deal to the tune of $80M — and boy, does that seem steep. Before getting into that, it’s only fair to point out that Jackson has probably won free agency. After turning down a four-year, $48M extension with the Thunder, (allegedly) moping about that and his bench role behind some guy named Russell Westbrook, Jackson was traded to Detroit but thrived enough (apparently) to entice Detroit to make him the franchise point guard. Regardless, turning down four years, $48M and ending up with five years, $80M is something to be proud of; Jimmy Butler would definitely agree.
The question now is simple: did Jackson really deserve a contract paying him $16M a year?
At first, I thought it was an absolutely horrible contract — the worst contract of free agency to be exact…until the Mavs maxed out Wesley Matthews, but that’s a totally different story. Giving that much money to, essentially, a sixth man who isn’t an elite talent at THE deepest position in basketball didn’t make much sense to me — especially when you add in the fact that Brandon Jennings was having a career year before injuries prematurely ended his season. Jackson isn’t that good of a shooter (career 32.3 percent FG from 15 feet or further) or defender at this stage, although he does have the tools to become a solid defender if he puts his mind to it, and has showcased that ability in spurts. While his frustration in regards to his role in OKC was somewhat understandable, the way he essentially forced his way out of OKC with his attitude also left a bad taste in the mouths of many, including me.
The pro-Jackson side could point to his age and upside. Jackson just turned 25 this year, and has, overall, improved in each of his four seasons in the league. Mostly seen and utilized as a spark plug off the bench in OKC, Jackson finally grabbed a starting role in Detroit and thrived in his 27-game stint there, averaging 17.6 points, 9.2 assists, and 4.3 rebounds. To put those numbers — albeit in a relatively small sample size — into perspective, only eight players have averaged at least 17-4-9 for an entire season in the last 25 years: Chris Paul (5x), Rod Strickland (3x), Magic Johnson, Steve Nash, John Wall, Tim Hardaway, Deron Williams and Damon Stoudamire.
In addition to his great base numbers in Detroit, he developed chemistry with Andre Drummond, who’s due for a max extension of his own this summer. According to Basketball-Reference, Drummond shot 57.4 percent when sharing the court with Jackson, but only 48.8 percent when he didn’t — that includes when they weren’t teammates. Jackson’s ability to find Drummond when attacking the basket, or when operating the pick-and-roll was a big reason why Drummond averaged 16.1 points on 53.6 percent shooting post-All-Star break.
From the financial side, taking this giant leap of faith with Jackson could pay off in the long run. $16M this year would represent a shade under 23 percent of this year’s cap ($70M). By the time the cap hits $108M two years from now, that same $16M would only represent 14.8 percent of the cap. Regression is expected and again, the sample size was a bit small, but if Jackson’s numbers are anywhere near what he put up in Detroit last year, the deal is going to look a lot better. And for comparison’s sake, Miami just gave 29-year-old Goran Dragic a five-year, $85M deal — and he admittedly took a pay cut to help Miami bring back Dwyane Wade. Re-signing a 25-year-old point guard (Jackson) to less money than that ($80M compared to $85M) with his prime years seemingly ahead looks like a much better overall investment — even though Dragic is the better player right now.
Overall, I’m still a bit skeptical of how this will all play out for Detroit. Jackson is a talent, but I’m not sure he’s talented enough to warrant the deal he got, even with the cap boom coming. However, he’s young, will have a full training camp with Stan Van Gundy and the rest of the roster, and the Pistons replaced Greg Monroe with a true floor-spacer in Ersan Ilyasova. Opening up the court a little bit could make Jackson a more efficient player, harder to guard and make Detroit a more dangerous team. If he progresses well, I could very well be eating crow a couple of years from now for ever doubting this deal.