It’s been a quick two years since Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson found himself lumped into the Cleveland Cavaliers’ trade talks involving Kyrie Irving.
Phoenix didn’t want to part with its shiny new draft pick, knowing full well that four years of control for a perfect complement to rising star Devin Booker held more value than putting all the chips to the center of the table and pairing Booker with a backcourt mate who might bolt.
While Irving’s postseason implosion and uncertain future with the Boston Celtics have that plan looking smart through one lens of hindsight, Jackson has done quite a bit to hurt another. Having been given every opportunity to succeed, although under less-than-ideal circumstances, his latest failure marks the breaking point.
The Suns are about to decide if they can salvage Jackson the player or if it’s time to cut ties.
New head coach Monty Williams was brought to Phoenix to act as a commanding presence, a purveyor of high morals and professionalism. Maybe he can finally reach Jackson.
But who can say if general manager James Jones has had enough of cleaning up after Jackson’s mistakes?
Jackson was arrested over the weekend in Florida, charged with escape, a felony, and resisting arrest, which is a misdemeanor. According to a report, he attempted to enter a VIP area at the Rolling Loud music festival and was handcuffed. He then attempted to leave the scene — in handcuffs — before officers found him and added the felony charge.
Alone, the incident is not malicious. Idiotic? Absolutely.
But this marks another incident of Jackson failing to grow up.
In college, he was charged for allegedly damaging a car of a Kansas women’s basketball player after a verbal altercation. He took a diversion agreement that said he would attend an anger management class and abstain from using drugs and alcohol. Jackson was later suspended a game for running his car into a parked vehicle, then leaving the scene without attempting to contact the owner of the other car.
With the Suns after being drafted No. 4 overall, he struggled on the court early on as the team replaced his first NBA coach, Earl Watson, with interim Jay Triano three games into the 2017-18 season. Triano benched Jackson for what he cited as basketball reasons — Jackson was focused on scoring and not defense, and Triano later said he needed to push Jackson to spend more time studying the game.
But there was also this honest assessment from the coach a week later:
“It was just one of those things where I said, ‘I need to have more confidence in you as a person,’ and he said, ‘I appreciate that Coach. I appreciate you telling me that,’” Triano said.
Under head coach Igor Kokoskov during his first and only season as Suns coach last year, it was more of the same.
Jackson struggled throughout the year, his three-point shot tweak marking one noticeable improvement. His turnover rate only got worse from his rookie year, his rim-attacking remained shockingly poor and his individual defense remained one of few positives.
Then came his missed sponsored appearance at a local Fry’s that had then-interim general manager James Jones picking up the pieces, showing up to apologize and buy fans a few beers.
Jackson said he had a good reason to miss the event. But the Suns fined him, a sign they at least weren’t letting him off the hook.
On the court, he has two years left on a reasonable rookie deal — he will make $7.1 million this year and $8.9 million next. That and his future as a high-motor competitor on defense in theory makes him a no-brainer to keep.
Yet his wild inefficiencies and inability to learn from successes and failures alike sure parallel his continued missteps off the court.
How is it that such an amazing athlete shoots 47 around the rim, 10% worse than the league average? He could be forgiven if he truly bought in to becoming the team’s defensive ace.
Jackson ranks in the bottom-40 among about 500 NBA players who each qualified for NET rating, true shooting percentage and turnover ratio, yet he was 86th last season in usage percentage.
Jackson played the best game of his career on April 1 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, scoring 19 points on 11 shots while adding 10 rebounds, four assists and five blocks in a victory. The next night, he went 5-of-14, forcing the offense and showing little resistance on defense like he had a game prior.
We see the same inconsistencies triggered by bad decision-making off the court, too.
Trying to sneak into a VIP area at a concert is hardly story-worthy. Attempting to evade officers while handcuffed is another thing.
The Suns seem prepared to survive another swing-and-whiff of a lottery pick from the Ryan McDonough era. They drafted Mikal Bridges a year ago, which itself should have been a warning sign to Jackson that he is very much replaceable. They signed Trevor Ariza, then traded him for an even more fitting wing in Kelly Oubre Jr., who is a restricted free agent.
T.J. Warren remains a more tradable piece to free up a crowded wing group. Even though he is less of a fit, has a longer contract worth more money and comes with injury issues, at this point, he looks much more valuable.
Jackson hasn’t adapted to coaching turnover and hasn’t proved he’s improved his judgment after he found himself in a bad spot while doing the same thing as a handful of teammates like Booker, Oubre and Deandre Ayton — hanging with the boys in Miami.
At some point, he’s got to realize it’s all on him.