Will the Suns’ Williams or Jones salvage the Josh Jackson situation?

May 13, 2019, 3:26 PM | Updated: 6:37 pm
Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) blocks the shot of Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton (...
Phoenix Suns forward Josh Jackson (20) blocks the shot of Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton (2) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, April 1, 2019, in Phoenix. The Suns defeated the Cavaliers 122-113. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

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.

Penguin Air

Penguin Air

Empire of the Suns

A Summer league logo is shown on center court during a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the...
Kellan Olson

Suns enter Summer League with another experienced, older roster

For the second straight year, the Phoenix Suns are approaching NBA Summer League unlike any other team.
18 hours ago
FILE - Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant is shown during the first half of an NBA basketball game against...
Kevin Zimmerman

Atop Kevin Durant wish list, it’s complicated for the Suns and Heat

No matter what the Phoenix Suns can offer for Kevin Durant, it'll be a complex trade to actually pull off a trade with the Brooklyn Nets.
18 hours ago
Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns warms up before a game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Ho...
Kellan Olson

Devin Booker’s latest commitment to Phoenix Suns further cements legacy

Phoenix Suns shooting guard Devin Booker continues to commit to the city and is on his way to becoming the top player in franchise history.
7 days ago
Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) becomes entangled with Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul during ...
Kevin Zimmerman

How the Suns will have the Kevin Durant trade discussion

The Phoenix Suns have shifted into discussing a Durant acquisition at least internally just after noon in Arizona.
7 days ago
General manager James Jones of the Phoenix Suns watches warm-ups to Game One of the Western Confere...
Kellan Olson

Phoenix Suns offseason checklist: What needs to get done in free agency

This is the most difficult offseason for Suns GM James Jones since he got the job in 2019 and I doubt he sees a tougher one in the future.
7 days ago
Phoenix Suns guard Aaron Holiday (4) drives between Sacramento Kings guard Josh Jackson (55) and gu...
Kevin Zimmerman

Report: Suns opt against making Aaron Holiday restricted free agent

The Phoenix Suns will not extend a qualifying offer to backup guard Aaron Holiday, giving the team financial relief.
8 days ago
Will the Suns’ Williams or Jones salvage the Josh Jackson situation?