Stephen Jackson in Desperate Need of Self-Awareness
But he's also a cause, and not because of this latest impetuousness. The very fact that Jackson is considered the Most Valuable Warrior -- or even a valuable Warrior -- helped get Golden State into this mess.
After the Warriors arrived to the new millennium seven years late in knocking off the Mavericks, the dismantling began. Golden State got out from under Jason Richardson's overpriced but not obscene deal by shuffling the wing to Charlotte for Brandan Wright (a player Don Nelson has squelched almost completely). After one of the best non-playoff seasons in NBA history the following year -- a year capped off by Nelson benching Baron Davis in a big game for allegedly partying late the night before -- Warriors president Robert Rowell nixed an extension general manager Chris Mullin had worked out with Davis, the soul of the team. Davis responded by skirting off for Los Angeles unexpectedly. The Warriors spent the money that would have went to Davis on Corey Maggette and Ronny Turiaf. While Davis stunk in L.A., he had not stunk previously in Golden State, which runs a system more suited to his style.
In all this shuffling, Jackson somehow became the most important Warrior. So Rowell gave him a three-year extension which doesn't even go into effect until next summer, and which contributes to the more than $35 million owed on Jackson's contract. Jackson is currently 31 years old.
The loss of Davis combined with a bizarre injury to Monta Ellis sent the Warriors to the dregs, and sent Jackson over the edge. His issue is that Golden State hasn't traded for a dominant big man, therefore the Warriors do not want to win, therefore he wants out. In his conversations with Spears, Jackson doesn't seem to understand he himself has made it impossible to be traded, between his contract, his shoddy performance, and his attitude. He's still trying to convince the world of his worth, telling Spears "there aren't many players that play on both ends and average 20 points" and that he's "rare."
Jackson is certainly rare, but not for the reasons he thinks. He's the rare top dog who is basically completely ineffective.
By my count there are at least six Warriors more valuable than Jackson.
* Monta Ellis. In 2007-08, Ellis was one of the most prolific two-guards in the league on offense. He looked alright coming back from the moped injury, and just might be able to play point guard. He has a major contract (five years, $55 million) but there isn't one team in the league who would take Jackson over Ellis right now. Not one.
* Stephen Curry. Without having played a regular season game yet, Curry takes precedence over Jackson. In fact, in a round-about way, the Warriors have shown they feel that way: the rumor persists that Amar'e Stoudemire would have been sent to the Bay if Golden State had been willing to reliniquish Curry on draft day. The Warriors had been willing to move the pick before Curry dropped to them. Jackson is, of course, grousing about the lack of a dominant big man in Oakland.
* Andris Biedrins. Speaking of dominant big men, Biedrins doesn't get nearly enough respect for his production. Biedrins is a hyper-efficient center who rebounds, blocks shots and scores a little. A $45-million contract over the next five years wouldn't discourage many teams.
* Anthony Randolph. Last season's Enigma of the Year is well-respected around the league at this point, not only for his natural gifts but for being able to survive a rookie season under Nellie. Not every kid can handle that. No team would even consider taking Jackson over Randolph.
* Anthony Morrow. The undrafted, unheralded Morrow also had a killer rookie year, leading the league in three-point percentage. And that wasn't a fluke -- he took some 184 threes over the season. He's a serious young scorer would fit right in on just about any NBA team. If the Warriors don't offer a decent contract next summer, someone else will.
* Kelenna Azubuike. If you shaking your head at this, then you need to take another look at Jackson. Azubuike is a more efficient scorer, a better rebounder, and possibly a better defender than Jackson, all while making less than half Jackson's salary this year and about a third of Jackson's salary next year. Jackson has two things on 'Buike: he scores more frequently and is a better distributor/passer. The distribution skills can't be disputed -- Azubuike is just not a good passer. But look at the scoring numbers. Azubuike scores 112 points for every 100 shots attempted. Jackson scores 106. The Warriors are better off with Azubuike taking shots ... which is pretty damning to Jackson, who prides himself as a dominant two-way player.
As for Jackson's defense ... even if it's completely awesome, it's doing no good on this Warriors team. The Warriors defense was no worse when Jackson was not on the floor last season. Most of Jackson's minutes came at small forward. Opposing SFs shot 54.4 percent against him. Opposing SFs shot 47.7 percent against Azubuike. Defensive rebounding is a big part of defense, and Azubuike is a substantially better defensive rebounder than Jackson. Jackson has a reputation as a great defender, but that reputation didn't do jack for the Warriors last season, and I don't expect it to going forward.
So the Warriors are in a tough position, one Jackson is making worse by continuing to throw stones. But a lot of this could be resolved if everyone involved -- Jackson, Nelson, GM Larry Riley, Rowell -- stopped to realize how little beyond his albatross salary Jackson really matters to the Warriors future. He's a mediocre player getting paid too much. Almost every team has at least one. If Golden State doesn't want to sell the farm (sending a 2010 pick or one of the young assets) to lose the anchor, just stop him from souring the entire roster. Jackson isn't going to lose value by sitting on the bench -- he's going to lose value by keeping his name in headlines and throwing up 30 percent shooting nights. While the team is most to blame for the situation, they don't need to keep digging deeper by attempting to make Jackson happy. Cut the loss and move on. He's not worth it.