By Richard Fischer
Raise your hand if you follow the NBA Developmental League.
I don’t see any hands.
Okay, well raise your hand if you’ve heard of the D-League. A few more hands, but still not very many.
That just about explains minor league sports in general. Nobody cares. As soon as a player starts performing at a level worth watching, that player usually gets shipped outward and upward within the organization. It’s a never-ending vicious cycle.No one to get behind. No one to stay behind.
Then there was the interesting case of rookie Pierre Jackson – property of the New Orleans Pelicans acquired in the Jrue Holiday trade.
For much of the D-League season, the people of Boise, Idaho were treated to some of the best exhibitions of pure scoring seen in professional hoops in quite some time. Never mind that basketball cathedrals like the world’s most famous arena Madison Square Garden, the Staples Center in Los Angeles or even the Smoothie King Center where Jackson could be playing, for a short period of time this winter the warm and cozy 5,300-seat CenturyLink Arena in Boise was the place to be.
In his first game as a member of the Idaho Stampede, Jackson scored 29 points. He dropped 43 points on December 6th and then 49 points a week later. The Pelicans stood pat. He scored 41 Dec. 27 before putting up 39 and 40 on back-to-back nights in early January.
Still no call from New Orleans.
Jackson scored 44 and 46 in late January before really turning heads with a D-League record 58-point performance in February. Still New Orleans – sporting a guard-heavy roster – chose not to exercise their right to sign Jackson and kept him, unhappily, in Boise.
Not difficult to see his frustration. He wanted to be on an NBA roster in an NBA city making an NBA salary. And who could blame him after putting up one NBA worthy performance after another?
So Jackson demanded a trade to a team that would sign him to an NBA roster before the Feb. 20 trade deadline.
But with all the leverage in the team’s corner, all Jackson could do was threaten to sign professionally overseas for more money if he weren’t traded.
Off Jackson went to Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkey, where he has struggled to get off the bench playing just eight minutes per game as one of only two Americans on the roster. That’s not uncommon for young Americans. Brandon Jennings played less than 20 minutes per game his one year overseas, and I’m sure all of his teammates who got more playing time on that particular squad would love the $25 million contract he signed this offseason.
But for 31 games in Boise, Jackson was a revelation. He scored at least 40 points six times and averaged 29.1 points and 6.2 assists per game. Believe me, the Pelicans and the NBA have taken notice.
New Orleans has exclusive NBA rights to sign Jackson for at least one more year, and if the Pelicans were to extend a contract his way, it would be an easy assumption that Jackson would be happy to return to America.
By waiting a calendar year since Jackson was drafted 42nd overall last offseason to sign him, New Orleans gets to keep him for an extra year on his rookie deal. That’s big if he ends up being a legitimate talent, and after all, New Orleans will need him more when they’re in possible playoff contention down the road than now when they’re not.
But it’s certainly fair to wonder how cordial Jackson will be with the organization that he feels (and rightly so according to many) kept him out of “The Show” far too long and essentially wasted a year of his professional life.
Plus, it’s very possible Jackson’s skills and scoring ability won’t translate to the highest level of professional basketball as a 5 foot 10 inch guard, and Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps was simply proceeding with caution.
Likely without a draft pick this year, the signing or not signing of Jackson looms as the biggest young player decision New Orleans has to make this offseason.