It could be a weird moment right now for Clippers guard Reggie Jackson.
While he is surely still feeling the sting of getting bounced from the Western Conference finals this week by the Suns, Jackson nonetheless has plenty to be proud of. And his NBA future, which was on the precipice of being nonexistent just two years ago, looks exceedingly bright even at the age of 31.
When Kawhi Leonard went out indefinitely with a knee injury during Game 4 against Utah, Jackson and Paul George more or less carried the Clippers past the Jazz and deep into the Suns series. In 19 playoff games, Jackson averaged 17.8 points, 3.4 assists and shot 48.4% from the field, 40.8% from three. His 58 triples are currently the most in the entire postseason and his percentage from three is sixth-best. He also displayed a nice rim-attacking repertoire.
It was undoubtedly a star turn for Jackson, who was anything but a sure bet for big minutes coming into the playoffs, and he rarely conducts a press conference without effusively giving the Clippers organization and players an outsized amount of credit for his confidence and career resuscitation.
“This year was my best year. The most challenging year. The most fun year,” said Jackson after Game 6. “I’m thankful for everything I’ve experienced being here, this city making me feel at home. This organization welcoming me, my quirks, my strengths, my weaknesses. I wonder if I would still be playing without this team.”
Ah, but irony. Problem is, Jackson might’ve played himself right off the Clippers.
Follow the Heavy on Clippers Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content out of Clipper Nation!
Affording Jackson Is the Problem
This week, Bleacher Report’s Kevin O’Connor examined the Clippers offseason situation and outlined the many scenarios facing the organization this summer. Of course, retaining Leonard, who has a player option for next season, was front and center — and will be until the famously tight-lipped forward makes a decision.
But O’Connor also touches on Jackson’s unrestricted free agent status, which, in light of his incredible playoff performance, is suddenly a concern.
“Following his breakout postseason, keeping Jackson went from an afterthought to an important item,” wrote O’Connor.
Jackson was waived by Detroit in February of 2020 before signing for the remainder of the season with L.A. two days later. For 2021, the Clippers signed Jackson to a one-year minimum contract worth $2.33 million. But clearly, those minimum days are numbered, to say the least.
“He could command a contract that exceeds the five-year, $80 million deal he signed with the Pistons in 2015,” O’Connor wrote. “If he’s not retained, finding a replacement who can perform at the level he did in the playoffs would be a challenge.”
Of course, the Clippers would love to re-sign Jackson and it’s fair to say Jackson would love to return. He’s gotten the opportunity to play alongside George — who signed a contract extension in December and someone Jackson considers one of his “best friends” — and has clearly earned the trust of the Clippers organization after struggling with injuries and inconsistencies throughout his career.
But the fact is, after betting the farm on bringing in Leonard and George two seasons ago, the Clippers are in no position to be handing out big raises, as O’Connor points out:
As a luxury tax-paying team, adding any additional salary will be pricey. If the Clippers dip their toes into the free agency waters, they won’t have any cap space and could only use the taxpayer midlevel exception, worth $5.9 million, to sign a player.
Clippers Have Other Considerations
Further muddying the picture for Jackson and the Clippers in general, is Serge Ibaka, who has a $9.7 million player option for next season, which he seems ever more likely to exercise given his persistent back issues. Signed in the offseason, Ibaka was forced to miss almost half the regular reason trying to get healthy and then dropped out of the playoffs after just two games. Obviously, Ibaka, who had surgery a few weeks back, will not be at peak market value this summer.
Additionally, the Clippers will have to make a decision on the future of Nicolas Batum, who is also an unrestricted free agent. Like Jackson, Batum entered the year as a castoff with minimal exceptions, but has thrived, and will surely be a target of other teams looking for a versatile veteran with plenty of gas still in the tank.
The Clippers will need to get creative if they want to keep Jackson (unloading Luke Kennard’s four-year, $64 million contract extension that kicks in next season could be a start) and though it’s not outside the realm of possibility that he returns, even Jackson seemed to take a fatalistic tone following Game 6.
“This city is special to me,” said Jackson, teary-eyed. “I can’t predict the future, I have no idea what happens, but this city, this organization, this fan base is special. It holds a special place in my heart forever. I’ll forever be a Clipper. I’m thankful. I’m thankful for this opportunity. I’m thankful to everybody who has been part of the journey who supported and made this year special.”