If the Cleveland Cavaliers decide to make a run at a free agent when things get rolling in October (spoiler alert: they will), I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Josh Jackson is on their radar.
You remember Jackson, right?
If not, allow me to refresh your memory.
Jackson is a 6-foot-8 small forward who was drafted fourth overall by the Phoenix Suns in 2017.
The Suns had high, high hopes for Jackson. Everyone did. He was viewed as an athletic difference-maker who could make things happen on the wing. That counted for a lot, considering NBA offenses keep moving further and further away from the basket.
Jackson was viewed as someone with length, speed and skill, someone with all the tools to become a star, and quickly.
How much did the Suns like Jackson?
Well, they refused to include him in trade talks with the Cavs that were centered on Kyrie Irving. That was back in August 2017, shortly after Jackson got drafted.
No one beyond Cavs GM Koby Altman and former Suns GM Ryan McDonough really knows how close the teams got to a deal. All we really know is Irving was eventually traded to the Celtics and the Suns kept Jackson.
For a short time, anyway.
Instead of a quick rise, Jackson’s star faded fast. Why exactly that happened is hard to say.
I mean, the guy averaged 13.1 points and 4.6 rebounds as a rookie. Yes, he experienced a little bit of a sophomore slump — but still managed 11.5 points and 4.4 boards his second year.
He also appeared in 157 of a possible 164 games over his first two seasons. So it’s not like durability was an issue.
But former Cavs shooting guard James Jones was promoted to full-time Suns GM before the start of last season, and Jones traded Jackson to the Memphis Grizzlies.
For whatever reason, Jones and new coach Monty Williams decided Jackson was no longer part of the Suns’ plans. Of course, you can’t fault Jones and Williams. The Suns showed improvement this season and were one of the 22 teams invited to the return of the season in Orlando next month.
Plus, Jackson only fared worse the Grizzlies. He was immediately assigned to the G League’s Memphis Hustle after the deal. He appeared in just 18 of the Grizzlies’ 65 games and isn’t likely to be part of the rotation once Memphis hits Disney.
THE RIGHT FIT?
So why am I mentioning the Cavs?
Because Jackson remains an intriguing prospect. He’s still young, just 23 years old. He will also be an unrestricted free agent this offseason. (Free agency reportedly is scheduled to tip off Oct. 18.)
And because of his recent struggles, Jackson isn’t expected to land a long, large contract that will suffocate your salary cap.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is exactly the type of prospect the Cavs are seeking. They are in development mode, rebuild mode, “growth” mode. They not only can afford to take chances on young players with upside, but it should be (and basically is) their rally cry.
Give us your young, your cost-efficient, your players who are hungry that deserve another chance. That is very likely Jackson.
Signing Jackson would also be the type of low-risk, high-reward move for which Altman is becoming known.
Now, I’m not entirely sold on rookie guard Darius Garland. I’m not sold on the idea that Collin Sexton can be a winning team’s best player. I’m not real sure what the Cavs’ plans are for veterans such as Kevin Love, Andre Drummond and Tristan Thompson.
Right now, the Cavs’ roster looks like a weird mish-mash of younger players and veterans, too many of whom play the same position and similar styles.
None of that is to say the Cavs should give up on Garland or especially Sexton — who was at his absolute best in the 11 games under coach J.B. Bickertsaff. While I may not be totally sold on Sexton becoming a star, I’m not dead-set against the concept that it could happen. And how could you not love rookie shooting guard Kevin Porter Jr.? He is undoubtedly another reason for hope.
But the Cavs know all of the players mentioned are “maybes.” Same goes for small forward Cedi Osman, who so far looks like a career seventh or eighth man. That’s OK. Teams need quality reserves. Problem is, Osman starts.
This is where a player such as Jackson comes in. Imagine Jackson running next to Sexton. Imagine Jackson getting another shot with a team that is less concerned with wins and losses as it is with building something cool for down the road.
Imagine Jackson living up to the promise everyone assumed he once possessed.
That is why if Jackson isn’t yet on the Cavs’ radar, he should be, and soon.
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