The Dion Waiters Trade Is Making Things Awkward For The Oklahoma City Thunder's Best Bench Player
When the Oklahoma City Thunder traded for Dion Waiters early in 2015, it seemed to cast even further doubt on the future of fourth-year guard Reggie Jackson.
Jackson and the Thunder couldn't agree to a contract extension earlier in the season, thus making Jackson a restricted free agent this summer.
Jackson has become the Thunder's most important bench player, but he wants to be a starter, which will never happen in Oklahoma City as long as Russell Westbrook is there.
The chances of Jackson leaving this summer have always been high. After OKC traded for Waiters, who has a similar game to Jackson and is under contract until 2016, those odds went up even further.
Since the trade, Waiters has been taking Jackson's minutes.
As Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman notes, Jackson is aware of the awkward situation. When asked about Waiters seemingly taking over his job, Jackson responded. "I mean, that’s what everybody’s saying. I’m not here to speculate, though. So if that’s what they do I understand it’s a business. If not, I’m still out here giving it my all."
When asked how he's handling the rumors, Jackson said:
"Probably better than you are. Y’all are bringing it up. I can’t control it. I just go play whenever I’m put on the court. That’s about all I can do, all the control I have. Just go from there. I’m happy (Waiters) did well. I’m happy he made a big shot. I’m just happy we got a win."
In Waiters' two games with OKC, he's averaging nearly 25 minutes per game compared to Jackson's 18. Last Friday, Waiters was the first guard off the bench, nearly five minutes ahead of Jackson, and Waiters also played down the stretch of the fourth quarter while Jackson sat.
According to Mayberry, Thunder officials have downplayed the idea that Waiters was brought in to replace Jackson.
Jackson's play has wavered throughout the season, making it more justifiable to hand his minutes to Waiters. Jackson can handle and score the ball well, but he's prone to bad shots and shooting slumps, and his defense hasn't been consistent. The Thunder have a negative net rating with Jackson on the floor.
With Jackson's contract situation looming — and teams likely to make him a big offer the Thunder won't want to match — the natural tension between Waiters and Jackson's roles seems to be coming out.