Reggie Jackson traveled to China last week to take part in NBA Nation, the league’s largest touring event for fans.
While there, the Thunder guard took some time to discuss his trip, his preparations for the upcoming season and the ongoing negotiation for his contract extension in an interview with The Oklahoman.
Q: What made you want to participate in NBA Nation this summer?
A: I like to be a part of it anytime I can be. This is the first time they've asked me to do it. So I made sure to make the trip out here, and it's been nothing but love since we got here.
What’s your experience been like in China?
Amazing. I’ve been touring the city. Hitting the museums. Just walking around. Doing a little shopping. Interacting with fans. I did NBA Nation and got to do an NBA Cares event. So it’s just been great trying to understand their culture and how things work over here. I’m just enjoying the experience of being halfway across the world. I’m loving it.
As a member of the Thunder, what’s been the reaction to the team over there in China?
Honestly, I think we’re probably the favorite team over here. That’s how it seems over here. Of course, everybody knows KD and supports him. People know Russell (Westbrook). But most of the time, even through translators, just hearing that we’re the favorite team over here and they consistently watch our games. I think we’re one of the highest televised teams and it really helps with the support. I’m kind of a nobody on our team, but a few fans know me over here just because of how many games are televised. They just love us. That’s been the thing that's been reiterated most is they love our team and how young we are and how we compete and the show that we put on each and every night that we step on the court.
You have a reputation for sleeping. A lot. And especially on planes. What did you do to kill the time getting over there?
Oh man, it was good for me. I’ve been working out. I turned it up the last week to being in the gym for four sessions each day. So that tired me out. I had my Pilates regimen and everything else still going on; lifting each and every day. And then I made sure to stay up as much as I could (before the trip). So I slept 11 of the first 12 hours on the first leg.
How much Chinese have you learned?
Not much. Of course I learned how to say hello. I always kind of knew that. And thank you. But I’m mostly just trying to listen to the translators and figure out body language and things like that. But I’m not fluent. I’m trying to learn a few words here and there. But hopefully I can bring something back to the states with me.
What’s one area of your game you’ve worked on more than any other this summer?
Probably just the pull-up game. Mid-range. I’m still staying consistent working on 3s. I can definitely up my percentage in 3s by cutting down some of the nonsense shots at the end of quarters that aren’t going to have a chance to go in. But just working on the mid-range game. I feel like I’ve improved on my long ball skills and can still improve even more. I want to shoot 40 percent or higher. I’m actually aiming for 50. So hopefully that will put me at 40 percent plus. But I think mid-range. I feel like I worked a lot on my floater. That’s an area I think I’m good at, getting to the basket and shooting floaters and finishing around the rim. But I think the next step for me is being able to shoot pull-ups, especially coming off screens. Our bigs do a great job of getting us open, especially when we have split seconds to make shots. And I think if I’m able to make those, it’ll open the floor and I’ll be able to make reads and make the next pass to the other guy and get the ball moving. I think that’s where we can improve. Russell’s good at it and KD’s good at it. So I think having a third option able to make those shots will just make plays easier for everybody else.
What can we expect to see from you next season?
Probably an even more confident player. Just somebody who’s going to go out there and be free flowing. I think the great players in this league treat it as pick-up. They just go out there and have fun. They don't really think necessarily too much. They just play instinctively. I’m still trying to get better at not beating myself up about plays. Try to learn from them. I’ve got to move on and just continue to play and just correct myself and understand I’ve been playing this game my whole life.
You’ve said that you want to be a starter someday. How do you think it would work starting alongside Russell Westbrook for a full season?
I don’t know. I think we did pretty well with it in that series, the last series for those four games. Unfortunately we didn’t advance and get to continue to play together. But that’s for the coaching staff to think about if that’s what they want to do. But, yeah, I definitely want to be a starter in this league. We’re trying to figure it out.
Is it something that you can see happening next year, or on this team would you be more comfortable coming off the bench?
Nah (laughs). I don’t think about ever coming off the bench for any team. If that’s the role I’m put in, that’s what I’m put in. But since the day I thought about playing in the NBA, I’ve always been a starter. Everything I’ve thought about, whether it be middle school, high school, kids leagues, I never envisioned coming off the bench. When you think about playing basketball, you see the first five guys get on the floor, and that’s something I’ve always prided myself on being. I want to be the best player I can be. I want to be the best player in the world. I don’t think those guys are necessarily coming off the bench. So I’ve never thought about that or even had that idea in the back of my mind.
Can you explain to us who don’t play the game at a high level, the fans who’ve never been in that situation, why it’s important to start? We keep hearing from the organization, from coaches ‘It’s not who starts, it’s who finishes.’ And they point to guys like Manu Ginobili and Jamal Crawford coming off the bench and having success. Why is it important for guys in the NBA to start?
For some people it’s important. To others it’s not. It’s very prideful for me. I feel like I’m very talented. I feel like I can lead a team. That’s just how I’ve been raised and that’s just how I’ve always felt. I want to be the guy in charge. I want to be the guy leading the team. The head of the snake. I guess that’s just how I’m encrypted DNA-wise. I played quarterback in high school. I had a year I was a receiver. But I was more comfortable playing quarterback. I’ve just always been good leading my team. That's how I’ve always been, being vocal. And when the ball’s in my hand, I feel like I can make the right plays and just impact the team. I definitely want to finish the game. That is the most important. But I’ve never envisioned myself coming off the floor. I always felt like I’d start the game and finish and play every minute of every game if that’s what’s asked of me. That’s one of the goals I’ve had and I still have to this day.
How are contract negotiations going?
We haven’t really talked about it much this summer. I know my representation and the Thunder have been talking. But mostly I haven’t really gotten to talk super much about it. I’ve been busy. I think we’re just trying to figure things out and hopefully we can get a deal done.
Do you think something will get done before the deadline?
I’m not sure. I’m always hopeful. I’m hoping for the best, expecting the worst. That’s just how I kind of approach things. I’m just happy and blessed to be able to play basketball another day and wake up another day. Just seeing another day is a blessing. I hope to get things done. But if not, it is what it is. I can’t really dwell on it. I have to go out there and compete. That’s where I am. I have to go out there and enjoy the game and trust that my representation and us sitting down and figuring things out is hopefully going to lead to us getting something done before the deadline.
In your mind, what’s it going to take to get done?
Communication. We have to figure out things that we can do on both ends. What we envision for the organization from both ends. I’d like to play a certain way. When it’s all said and done and I hang up my jersey, hang up my shoes, I have many goals that I want to accomplish. So I think it’s going to be about what’s the vision for obtaining those goals from both parts and what’s the vision that we have moving forward.
Are you prepared if it doesn’t work out before Oct. 31 to go into restricted free agency?
I haven’t really thought about that. I’ve thought about it a little. But if that’s what happens, that’s what happens. Mostly, this summer I just focused on getting better to the best of my ability. Because you can map out a plan and talk about things, but they don’t always go the way you want them. Like I said, I’m hoping for the best. If it doesn’t come out that way, it is what it is. I have to go out there and try to show the world that I’m one of the best players in the world and I want to be the best. That’s my main focus. I would love to get a deal done, but if that’s not what happens, that’s not what happens. I can’t necessarily dwell on it and think about that too much. I have to go out there and compete.
How much are you paying attention to Eric Bledsoe’s, situation with him being a similar player and now being in a contract dispute with Phoenix?
I definitely have paid attention to it. But I pay attention to a lot of moves going on in the league. It’s a business. You want to figure out what every team is doing, not necessarily just from a contract standpoint. I want to figure out the landscape of the NBA and what teams are trying to do. What teams are really looking to contend and what’s the landscape and whats going to happen in the league. But I probably have paid attention a little more to his situation. But I just love basketball. I watch it all the time. I try to follow it all the time and figure out every little move that’s happening in the league, whether it be trades, trade exceptions, whatever is going on. I just try to pay attention to every aspect of the game.
To piggyback on that, what did you make of the deals Gordon Hayward and Chandler Parsons got this summer, and do you look at those extensions as sort of barometers for yourself?
Yeah. I definitely factor in all those things. Young players getting paid. Especially with Gordon, who I believe was the class before me, and then Chandler who was in my class. A second-round pick who I’m happy for. He went out and got a major payday, and hopefully he lives up to the expectations. I’m sure he’s preparing for this season. We met each other, I believe, our rookie year. Chandler’s a great guy. I know him a little bit. I’m happy for his success. But you definitely kind of have to weigh yourself on what’s going on around the league. So you have to look at guys around you in similar classes and similar positions to try to get a barometer for what you should probably make. It’s been some groundbreaking deals going on this summer, and I have to take that into account when it comes to trying to get a deal done.