It seems clear there’s no turning back now.
The Warriors, for the sake of their young talent, for the sake of their franchise, must trade Stephen Jackson. Immediately. A take-the-highest-bid fire sale won’t bring back the kind of talent the Warriors or their fans would probably like to see in return for Jackson, but it’s better than the alternative, which is keeping Jackson around any longer.
The Warriors kicked off their five-game Eastern road trip Wednesday in Indiana with a game against the Pacers that should have been a winnable game. Or at the very least, a competitive game. Indiana is a mediocre team, and though Danny Granger is a very nice player, the Pacers’ roster isn’t more talented than that of the Warriors. The fact that Golden State’s defense made Roy Hibbert look like an all-star center is the fault of the Warriors’ poor defense, not an indication of Hibbert’s talent.
Instead of demonstrating a competitive effort, or even pulling out a win, the Warriors showed a shocking lack of effort on defense, a frustratingly consistent ability to rebound the basketball, and were run out of Conseco Fieldhouse, 108-94 (box score).
There are plenty of story lines to write about from this game, but none is more intriguing than the pre-game, in-game and post-game evidence of the widening divide between Don Nelson and Jackson, his once-upon-a-time star pupil. The story actually began before the game started, when Nelson went on KNBR and said this about Jackson: “We know Jack wants out, we’re trying to accomodate him. It’s harder than hell to trade that guy. He’s got his history; he’s got a long-term contract. We’re trying.”
That doesn’t paint a pretty picture. We know Nelson and the Warriors want to be rid of Jackson as much as he wants to be rid of them. But it sounds like there aren’t a lot of suitors out there. A report said that the 76ers contacted the Warriors about a Jackson-for-Samuel Dalembert trade, but other than that, the lack of detail in trade rumors about a guy who has taken up permanent residence on the trade block is telling. I think the Warriors are receiving trade offers that involve players of lesser talent and worse contracts (yes, there are some contracts out there that are worse than Jackson’s). If the Warriors are holding out for equal talent in return, they may find their wait to be indefinite.
Once the game started, we saw more evidence of the deterioration of the Nelson-Jackson relationship. Jackson, who was so excellent in the Warriors’ previous game with a career-high 15 assists, decided he’d had enough of sharing the ball and started taking ill-advised, early-in-the-shot-clock jumpers, which he missed, starting 1-of-5 from the field. He also played like he was too important to demonstrate any effort on defense, giving multiple Pacers players a free path to the basket. I was surprised he wasn’t out there setting screens against his teammates to make the Pacers’ job easier.
After five minutes, Nelson had enough and yanked Jackson from the game, which was already out of hand. Jackson didn’t return to the court in the first half, and ended up playing only 18 minutes in the game. The only surprise to me was that Nelson put him back in the game at all.
After the game, Nelson responded to questions about Jackson’s limited minutes, saying, “He’s got a sore back or something. I didn’t think he was moving very well. I didn’t think he moved very well in practice this morning. So I didn’t expect that he was going to give me very much. But he gave me what he had.” Apparently, before the game Nelson had said Jackson’s hip was hurting, too.
Jackson was then asked by reporters if he was hurt, and he denied Nelson’s claim. “I’m fine. I’ve got a scratch. That’s all it is. My back is not sore at all. Regardless of where I’m at, I want to play. I have no control over that, but I want to play, regardless of if I’m in Africa or wherever. I know I could have done more than I did tonight. … Everybody know what the situation is. I know a lot of people expected to see me blow up when he took me out the game earlier. For what? It is what it is. Like I said, I’m going to always respect coach. I’m just going to do my job until things change.”
The problem is Jackson isn’t doing his job very well. Despite a solid game or two this season, he’s been an inconsistent performer and his effort has been hit-and-miss. I’m sure he thinks he’s being positive in his comments to the press, but his refusal to take any responsibility for the poor play of the team this season, instead continually placing the blame on the coaches and his teammates has created a toxic atmosphere in the Warriors locker room. You have to worry about young, talented players like Anthony Randolph and Stephen Curry how this is affecting them.
So, it’s time to let Jackson go. Trade him now for the best offer you can get. Get him off the team, off the court, out of the locker room and let’s see what this team can do. Will they win more games without Jackson? Probably not. But without Jackson’s overpowering negative presence surrounding this team, it would be interesting to see if the Warriors’ on-court effort and chemistry improve. It would be interesting to see if the attitude in the locker room took on a more positive slant.
With Jackson gone, would Curry step forward and become the natural leader he appears to be?
With Jackson gone, would Randolph be free to develop into the all-star talent we expect him to be?
With Jackson gone, would Monta Ellis develop his own voice and try to be a more positive leader? It would be nice to find out before placing Ellis on the trading block, too.
With Jackson gone, would Nelson be able to get better effort and improved performance from this roster?
All good questions. And none can be answered until Jackson is playing for another team.
UPDATE: Jackson had the following to say after Thursday’s practice: “People want me to be somebody to point the finger at and say, ‘He ain’t doing this, or he’s not humble, or he’s not doing this.’ I just want to win.
“A lot of people think just because you play basketball, you make a lot of money, you just bite your tongue and be the bigger person. That’s not me. I’ve been this way since I got in the league and before I got in the league, all my life, so there’s no reason for me to change now, for money or for any other reason.
“The off-the-court stuff doesn’t affect basketball. It shouldn’t. There’s nobody talking about contracts and stuff on the court, so it shouldn’t affect the game.
“It’s a lot of things that have snowballed, but you can’t make excuses. You can’t bring the outside stuff to the court, because that’s where you’re free from all of it. I know me, personally, none of the outside stuff ever affects my game.”