It could be argued that no one on the 2020-21 Clippers overachieved more this season relative to expectations than Reggie Jackson.
The 10-year vet signed a minimum deal with the Clippers in the 2020 offseason after a lackluster performance in the bubble. Throughout the season, Jackson was in and out of the rotation, and many viewed him as a third point guard that wouldn’t earn much playing time when the postseason rolled around. As the season progressed and Jackson’s role grew out of necessity due Patrick Beverley’s myriad injuries, he cemented himself as a useful piece for LA (Clippers Reporter Justin Russo coined the nickname “Big Government,” as Jackson tended to bail the Clippers out quite frequently). But no one, other than maybe Jackson himself, could’ve predicted he’d have the sensational postseason that he did.
Jackson was LA’s third-best player throughout the postseason, averaging a playoff career-high 18.1 points per game on 49.2% shooting and 41.5% from three. In the Conference Finals, with Kawhi Leonard out, the Clippers needed Jackson’s ball-handling, dribble-penetration and bailout jumpers even more, and he answered the call, averaging 20.3 points per game and delivering timely baskets whenever LA began to stagnate. He maximized his role, and did not waiver as it grew.
Jackson’s heroics weren’t enough, however, and LA fell to the Suns in six games, saying farewell to their best season in franchise history on Wednesday night. During his exit interview, Jackson expressed his gratitude towards his teammates and the Clippers organization for trusting him.
“My tenth year was my best year,” Jackson said, holding back tears as he reflected on his season. “Most challenging year. Most fun year...first thing I told those guys is ‘thank you for saving me.’”
The market is going to look a little different for Jackson entering free agency this offseason. He’s earned himself a much larger contract than the veteran’s minimum, and he’ll likely earn multiple years’ worth of security as well. The Clippers would no-doubt love to have him back, but they have other free agents to factor in (Kawhi Leonard, Nicolas Batum) and the salary cap could make it difficult for LA to stay competitive with the other offers Jackson will be receiving.
Still, the Clippers have a crucial bargaining chip that other teams don’t: Jackson’s best friend, Paul George.
George and Jackson have talked at length this season about their friendship, recalling discussions of wanting to play together back when George was in Indiana and Jackson was in Detroit. The two even lived together for a period. Jackson said George was crucial in getting him to LA to begin with.
During his own postgame press conference, George acknowledged that Jackson has earned himself plenty of options this offseason, but that he’ll do everything he can to keep his buddy in Los Angeles.
"Reggie has played himself into some options in free agency. Rightfully so. He played his ass off. … One of the commitments I made when I signed my contract was to show that I'm here for the long run. ... Hopefully that weighs on anybody's decision but it's no hard feelings. These guys, they got decisions to make on their own."
NBA free agency will begin on Aug. 6 at 12:01 p.m. EST. Leonard will obviously be one of the first major dominoes to fall, but Jackson’s own courtship will be intriguing as well. Many teams in the league could use his shotmaking and veteran presence. Time will tell if the Clippers can retain Jackson before they resume their pursuit of an NBA title.