NEW YORK -- After putting together a gutsy performance in which he closed out the Brooklyn Nets in crunch time despite being hampered by dehydration, cramping and fatigue, Detroit Pistons point guard Reggie Jackson was asked a simple question:
How far away are you from being the player you want to be?
“Extremely far. I want to be the best to ever do it,” replied Jackson, who scored nine of his 19 points in the fourth quarter of Detroit’s 105-100 victory over Brooklyn on Tuesday night at Barclays Center.
He then began rattling off some of the best floor generals of all-time -- names such as Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas and Allen Iverson.
“There are so many greats,” Jackson continued, heaping praise on all of them, “but I just try to be the best me and the best leader I can be for this team. And as long as you win, that’s how you’re measured as a point guard. If I can walk away with a handful or two worth of rings, that will speak for itself, but I’m just loving the opportunity. I have a coaching staff and a group of teammates that are behind me, and I’m just going to represent my family, this organization and this city to the best of my ability and leave everything I have on the court each and every night.”
Jackson might not be on the same level as the likes of Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook or Chris Paul just yet -- and it remains to be seen if he’ll ever get there -- but his impressive self-confidence figures to carry him a long way for the foreseeable future.
At the trade deadline last season, the Nets were hoping to send franchise center Brook Lopez to Oklahoma City in exchange for Jackson -- who wanted out and was seeking an increased role -- and then maxing him out.
But it never happened.
The Thunder changed course in the final hour, moving on from their trade talks with Brooklyn and jettisoning the 25-year-old to Detroit in a three-team deal. All the Pistons had to surrender were DJ Augustin, Kyle Singler and two second-round picks.
The Nets ultimately felt like they had been bamboozled by OKC, but there was nothing they could do about it.
“I don’t know who else was in on him, I have no idea,” Pistons coach and president Stan Van Gundy said, thinking back to that day. “He just became available. Brandon [Jennings] had gone down with an injury, and we were looking for an opportunity.
“Two weeks before the trade deadline, there was no chance. But then it materialized pretty quickly, and we were able to do it without giving up a first -- which we weren’t going to do -- so it sort of fell into place. We got pretty lucky.”
The tough part -- at least in the eyes of some -- was committing $80 million to Jackson as part of a five-year contract. It seemed like too much money. Plus, there were questions about his attitude and whether he would be able to handle the burden that comes with being a cornerstone piece.
“I don’t think [Reggie] has to do anything [to justify the contract],” Van Gundy said. “I think that’s going to be average to below average for a starting point guard in two years [with the national TV money coming in and the substantial salary-cap increase], so I think people that were criticizing the money were very short term in their thinking and not looking at where this is going.
“For us to get him locked up and not have to deal with the potential nightmare of him signing the qualifying offer like Greg Monroe did last year and then 30 teams having money to lure him away, we couldn’t let that happen.”
Jackson is currently averaging 19.1 points, 6.3 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game for the Pistons and ranks ninth among point guards in real plus-minus. He is certainly susceptible to poor shooting nights, but he’s more than capable of explosive scoring nights as well.
“We don’t want to be constantly in the free-agent market -- especially coming up where 30 teams are going have money and everything else,” Van Gundy said. “But it was good that we could lock in. And I’ve said several times, we got hit hard for how much money we gave him, but you look two summers from now at his contract and where he is and what guys are getting paid, and he’ll be a value contract.”
Detroit (26-23) -- a playoff team in the Eastern Conference if the season ended Tuesday -- is loaded with young talent such as Jackson, Andre Drummond, Stanley Johnson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. But with that inexperience also comes growing pains, and right now Van Gundy is frustrated with his team’s inability to defend.
Lopez, meanwhile, is still in Brooklyn. While his team continues to struggle, he has been playing better of late -- especially in the fourth quarter, where he has combined for 20 points in his past two final periods. Instead of settling for jumpers on the perimeter, he has been getting deep post position, demanding the ball and finishing with confidence. Whether the Nets will be able to actually rebuild around Lopez is a question for another day.
With the Pistons up two and just over a minute remaining on Tuesday night, Jackson drove into the lane and flipped up a floater. Lopez got a piece of the shot with his hand, but it went in anyway.
“That’s tough. I kind of wanted to ask for half a point or something,” Lopez said, laughing.
Who knows how Jackson would have performed in Brooklyn with a frontcourt that featured Thaddeus Young and Mason Plumlee. It’s something to think about, but Jackson seems to be doing just fine in Detroit.
“He’s been a really good closer,” Van Gundy said. “He knows the ball is going to be in his hands, and he wants that responsibility.”