In a tale of two point guards, Chris Paul preened on the court, celebrating clinching his first trip to the NBA Finals in his 16-year career. Reggie Jackson, eyes welling, celebrated his situation, thankful for making it to the conference finals.
It was a wonder that Paul hadn’t gotten there before, with dominant teams in his time in New Orleans, with the Clippers, Rockets, Thunder and finally with the rising Suns. For Jackson, it was a wonder that he even got there this year; his career supposedly was done after his time with the Pistons ended in 2020 after a contract buyout.
Jackson had toiled through a couple of years of injuries with the Pistons after signing a five-year deal worth $85 million in 2015. He had worn out his welcome with the fan base and he simply needed a lifeline to figure out of he was going to have a career left at the age of 31.
Paul George had a friendship with Jackson and vouched for him to come to Los Angeles. The problem was that they already had a logjam at point guard, with Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams ahead of Jackson on the depth chart. The Clippers traded Williams to the Hawks and got Rajon Rondo, a more proven playoff option with a championship pedigree.
Still, Jackson found a niche, and after Kawhi Leonard was lost to injury, he became their most important player behind George.
“This year was my best year. The most challenging year. The most fun year. I was not sure I was going to play, ups and downs, guys were injured,” Jackson said after Game 6, still emotional. “Still found my way into this locker room. The first thing I told these guys was thank you for saving me. Yeah, I appreciate every guy in that locker room, I appreciate Paul for getting on that phone last year, at the end of the season when I was talking about a buyout with Detroit.
“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. So, yeah, I thank them.”
In Los Angeles, Jackson found another gear and very likely extended his career. He showed that he can still be effective in the right role and with the right roster around him.
“This city is special to me. I can’t predict the future, I have no idea what happens, but this city, this organization, this fan base is special,” Jackson said. “It holds a special place in my heart forever. I’ll forever be a Clipper. I’m thankful. I’m thankful for this opportunity.”
Maybe he returns to the Clippers for another run; maybe it’s as a veteran backup for another contender, but Jackson showed that he still has something left.
This week’s News & Views dives into the conference finals and some Pistons updates.
► News: The Suns held off the Clippers and advanced to the NBA Finals.
► Views: I got some crazy email when I picked the Clippers to beat the Lakers in the first round, but they’ve persevered through an amazing playoff run.
Paul gets his first Finals appearance and Devin Booker gets his first dance in the limelight. The Suns had a good run in the bubble last season and built on it this year. It’s a model of how to build a franchise, with good drafts to build the core and the addition of Paul to cap things off. James Jones deservedly won the NBA executive of the year for assembling this group and retaining Booker.
With both East finalists having injured stars, the Suns might find themselves as the favorites to win the title — which simply is a mind-blowing turnaround from their years of struggles.
► News: The Hawks extended the series after an injury sidelined Trae Young, and the Bucks battled back without Giannis Antetokounmpo.
► Views: Injuries have become a big part of these playoffs, with most teams losing a key player for a stretch of the postseason. Antetokounmpo’s knee injury doesn’t look to be season-ending, but the two-time MVP has been an integral part of the series. The Bucks showed that they can get the job done without Antetokounmpo, but the Hawks absolutely need Young if they’re going to take the series to a Game 7.
Regardless of the outcome, the Hawks also have shown a blueprint of how to construct a roster. They made an error in judgment in bypassing Luka Doncic, but in the end, it’s working out with Young.
► News: Jerami Grant was chosen for Team USA and rookies Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart were added to the Select Team ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
► Views: It’s a tremendous honor for each of them. Grant joins the 12-man squad that will be favored to win the gold medal. Grant had a breakthrough season with the Pistons and managing director Jerry Colangelo had some glowing compliments of Grant’s play and his fit on the team.
For Bey and Stewart , it’s an opportunity to play with some of the top players in the league to help Team USA prepare for the Olympics. It’s also an acknowledgment of their status as rising stars in the NBA. They made the all-rookie teams, but given the other options, their selection is significant, and a nod to Pistons general manager Troy Weaver’s scouting.