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Published: Sunday, 10/28/2001

Jackson needs to adjust role on a new team

Now that he appears to be on the verge of playing his 10th NBA season, I hope Jim Jackson realizes that things will be different.

For starters, it's the first time since his rookie year that Jackson isn't assured of a guaranteed contract - a steady paycheck - going into the season. Only the Memphis (formerly Vancouver) Grizzlies have shown interest, but with the regular season beginning in a couple of days, the team still hasn't tendered a formal offer.

This will be Jackson's greatest test since he entered the league in 1992 as the fourth pick in the draft out of Ohio State via Macomber High School. How he handles the perceived slight from the league will help determine his NBA future.

I respect Jackson as a professional athlete. In the few occasions I've spoken with him away from basketball, he's always made a positive impression. He's bright, with an engaging personality.

I know how much playing in the NBA means to him and how badly he wants to play like the Jim Jackson who averaged 25.7 points for the Dallas Mavericks in 1994-95.

But my fondness for Jackson doesn't prevent me from seeing the cold truth of his situation.

Jackson is a victim of perceptions. In pro sports, perception is reality.

Jackson is being punished for playing for seven different teams and being traded five times.

He's paying for a series of injuries that originated during that magical season several years ago that robbed him of his devastatingly quick first step to the basket.

And he's still paying for a disagreement he had with Portland coach Mike Dunleavy during the 1999 playoffs.

Jackson needs to play this season so he can change those perceptions.

By mid-summer, Jackson, who shot the ball poorly last season, was in regular-season playing shape. Injury-free for the first time in years, he performed superbly in front of NBA coaches and executives at the prestigious Los Angeles summer league.

But Jackson may have underestimated teams' reluctance to sign players like himself to the new $4.5-million veterans exception for fear of exceeding the league's as-yet-unknown luxury-tax limit.

Skeptical buyers looked at Jackson, a free agent, and saw a 31-year-old well-traveled swingman who averaged 10.3 points while shooting only 39 percent with the Cleveland Cavaliers last year. According to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Grizzlies didn't start showing serious interest in Jackson until he indicated he would be willing to play for the $1 million veterans minimum.

In another twist, Memphis isn't looking to bring in Jackson as the team's starting shooting guard. Jackson would be insurance behind starter Michael Dickerson and veteran Nick Anderson.

The only time Jackson hasn't been an NBA starter was the year he spent in Portland.

Jackson needs to get back in the game, so Memphis may be his salvation. I believe he can still play another four or five years, but he's going to have to remake his career in the image of former Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami (Ohio) standout Ron Harper, who evolved from high-scoring NBA shooting guard to steady veteran influence with the champion Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. Jackson should take note.

John Harris is a Blade sports columnist. E-mail him at jharris@theblade.com.



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