Stephen Jackson wanted out of Golden State so badly for so long. When the team finally called to tell him he’d been traded, he already knew.
At long last, he got to say goodbye.
“I always stay ahead of the game,” he said, smiling. “Always.”
The Warriors granted the disgruntled swingman’s wish Monday, trading him to the Charlotte Bobcats in a four-player deal that pairs him with coach Larry Brown. The Bobcats traded shooting guard Raja Bell and forward Vladimir Radmanovic to the Warriors for Jackson and guard Acie Law.
A franchise that has lost five straight games and has never been to the playoffs might not be exactly what Jackson had in mind. But he got his ticket out of town, ending a relationship with the Warriors and coach Don Nelson that had long been strained.
Nelson had acknowledged since the season began the team would try to trade Jackson, a player with a well-documented history of on-and-off court issues. And Jackson repeatedly made it known he wanted nothing to do with the Warriors.
“I wanted to be out pretty bad,” Jackson said. “Things were going bad. I was getting blamed for everything. I wasn’t seeing eye to eye with the team. I got fined in preseason, which was ridiculous. It was just a lot of things that I didn’t agree with that was going on.”
Golden State got what it wanted, too.
“We can get back to playing basketball,” Larry Riley said after his first major move as Warriors general manager. “Our players had done a great job doing everything they could to play through this and not let it be a major distraction. We felt we needed to do this and move on.”
Jackson was in a hotel room in Milwaukee when he got the call from his agent Monday morning. He immediately hopped on a plane to Orlando and started against the Magic, finishing with 13 points and nine rebounds in a 97-91 loss.
Jackson said he was looking forward to playing for Brown, and he didn’t miss a chance to take a parting shot at Nelson when asked what kind of coach he looks for as a player.
“The kind of coach I want that has your back,” Jackson said. “That’s something that’s big to me. If a coach has my back, then I don’t mind playing 110 percent for him.”
Now Brown, the Hall of Famer who has coached numerous difficult players, including Allen Iverson, will get a crack at the talented and polarizing Jackson.
“No matter what Stephen might say to me when I take him out, I’ve heard it before,” Brown said. “As long as they care and as long as they want to get better and are good teammates, I’m OK.”
Brown’s biggest challenge will be getting Jackson to fit into his demanding system after yet another roster shuffle for a team off to a disappointing 3-7 start. The Bobcats have made five trades involving 17 players in 11 months since Brown began his record ninth NBA head coaching job last season.
“Obviously, we gave up a lot,” Brown said. “But getting this guy will at least make our rotations a little bit simpler.”
With managing partner Michael Jordan signing off on the deal, Charlotte takes on Jackson’s contract, which has three years and $28 million left after this season. Golden State inherits Radmanovic’s deal, worth about $13.5 million over this season and next. Bell and Law are in the final year of their contracts.
The 6-foot-8 Jackson gives Charlotte, which began Monday as the NBA’s lowest-scoring team at 82.4 points a game, an immediate offensive boost. He averaged 16.6 points in nine games this season with Golden State after averaging 20.7 points and 6.5 assists last season.
“He can create a shot for himself, which is something that we desperately need,” Brown said.
But the 31-year-old Jackson also brings plenty of baggage, dating to when he was suspended for going into the stands in Auburn Hills, Mich., in the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl in 2004.
He’s been upset with the Warriors since their decline after he helped lead them to the second round of the 2007 playoffs. The NBA fined him $25,000 when he went public with his trade demand in August. He then got into a spat with Nelson during an exhibition game last month, leading to a two-game suspension that cost him about $139,000 in salary. He also relinquished his captain title.
Jackson had named several teams he would like to be traded to, and Charlotte was never one of them. But he said he’s thrilled at the chance because it gives him an opportunity to make the playoffs, even though the Bobcats have never been to the postseason.
“I’m happy because it gives me a chance to compete and it gives me a chance to be where I want to be – and that’s the playoffs, where I belong,” he said. “I don’t belong being home at the end of April. I belong in the playoffs.”