A midseason trade that promised to deliver greater responsibility and earning potential has now delivered on both counts.
Restricted free agent point guard Reggie Jackson has agreed to a five-year, $80 million contract with the Pistons, according to Yahoo Sports and ESPN.com. The deal, which kicks in for the 2015-16 season and runs through 2019-20, reportedly doesn't include any options.
"THANK YOU Pistons organization," Jackson wrote on Twitter. "Looking forward to the next 5 [years] of my life. Beyond blessed. Glory to God. Have a home."
Jackson, 25, averaged 14.5 points, 6 assists, and 4.2 rebounds in 2014-15, a year that saw him move from Oklahoma City to Detroit at the deadline. After three-plus seasons backing up All-Star Russell Westbrook with the Thunder, Jackson sought a team to call his own. The 2011 first-round pick reportedly turned down a four-year, $48 million offer from Oklahoma City last fall, and he was eventually dealt to Detroit in a three-way trade that landed Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler in Oklahoma City. Jackson's numbers enjoyed a health post-bump trade—he averaged 17.6 points and 9.2 assists down the stretch—and the Boston College product placed No. 23 overall on SI.com's "Top 25 Free Agents of 2015" list and third among a shallow point guard crop.
From Jackson's perspective, this contract amounts to an ideal conclusion to a rocky year: his willingness to turn down a lucrative offer from a winning organization and his patience in waiting out his fourth season without an extension have been rewarded with a greater average annual value ($16 million compared to $12 million) and an extra year of guaranteed money from Detroit. With Brandon Jennings still rehabilitating from an Achilles tear, Jackson pencils in as Detroit's starting point guard for the foreseeable future as the franchise aims to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
This deal looks like a serious leap of faith from Pistons coach/president Stan Van Gundy, whose busy off-season has seen the additions of Ersan Ilyasova, Marcus Morris, Danny Granger, Reggie Bullock and eighth overall pick Stanley Johnson, as well as the departure of Greg Monroe. Van Gundy's willingness to invest was surely influenced by Jackson's productive close to the season, his ability to scale his production when given greater minutes, and his comfort in pick-and-roll scenarios. Van Gundy has sought to increase the spacing in Detroit's offense, by parting with Josh Smith and Monroe, and Jackson's strength in the two-man game will set up the collapse-and-kick opportunities that keep spread teams in business. Detroit's offensive efficiency was three points better under Jackson than Jennings, and he projects long-term as the more reliable starting option.
It certainly didn't hurt Jackson's cause that Van Gundy needs a point guard now: if Jennings happened to be healthy, this negotiation might have played out a little differently. Van Gundy, as a hybrid coach and GM, needs to show some level of progress to ownership, and there was a distinct lack of available alternatives. Monroe's departure, which netted nothing in return because he took the rare step of playing on a qualifying offer last year so he could be an unrestricted free agent, only upped the urgency to retain Jackson. Detroit is trying to build something after years of spinning its tires in sub-mediocrity, and that requires quality building blocks locked into place for years to come. As the final numbers made clear, Jackson enjoyed a very favorable position leverage-wise.
Regardless, this seems like too much money. Jackson is a below-average three-point shooter, a mediocre finisher at the rim, and a fine but not otherworldly passer. He's not particularly physical, he's not a high-volume free-throw shooter, and he was a minus defender last year. The catch-all advanced stats don't hate Jackson, but they don't really love him, either. He ranks around No. 20 at his position when it comes to Player Efficiency Rating and Real Plus-Minus, and he's a big cut below the top 10 point guards in the league when it comes to the eye test. That profile doesn't exactly scream $16 million per year and $80 million guaranteed.
This summer's two best comparison points are Phoenix's Brandon Knight ($70 million over five years) and Miami's Goran Dragic ($90 million over five years), both of whom were also traded at the deadline. Jackson is two years older and yet still less proven than Knight, who has started throughout his four-year career. Jackson is not as potent nor as accomplished as Dragic, an All-NBA selection who is getting paid a premium because he's in his prime. Jackson can claim better post-trade production than Knight or Dragic, but his numbers were coming in relatively meaningless games, and Detroit was just 10-17 with him in the lineup.
There's no obvious reason that Jackson's contract should be $10 million richer than Knight's, and it looks even worse when you compared it to this summer's other restricted free agents: Khris Middleton ($70 million over five years), Tobias Harris ($64 million over four years), Draymond Green ($82 million over five years) and Jimmy Butler ($90 million over five years). Jackson doesn't even belong in the same paragraph as Green and Butler, and the breakout potential of Middleton and Harris makes their deals more appealing than Jackson's.
All season, there were legitimate questions about whether Jackson would regret passing on $48 million. Clearly, he won't, thanks in part to the NBA's salary cap expansion. But there's a huge gap between $48 million and $80 million, and there's no obvious answer for why Van Gundy was willing to slide all the way to star-type money for a player whose ceiling doesn't appear to be all that high. Were the last two months of the season so convincing that Van Gundy had to go the full five years? Shouldn't he have asked Jackson to find a four-year offer sheet and then simply matched it? Was there any real negotiating done here, or did Van Gundy simply hand over the keys to the bank vault so that he could get back to watching tape?