Jackson's OKC exit a long time coming

OKLAHOMA CITY -- In two different tweets, Reggie Jackson and Kevin Durant summarized everything there is to know about Jackson's acrimonious end in Oklahoma City.

Some two hours after word of the deal broke, Jackson tweeted, "Crying tears of joy #godisgreat."

Six minutes after that, Durant tweeted, "Once a thunder, always a thunder @KendrickPerkins! Love you boy!! Always!"

There was no send-off for Jackson. Not hard to read between those lines. And if they were still blurred, here's what Durant said Thursday night after the Thunder waxed the Mavericks without Jackson:

"We felt like everybody wanted to be here except for one guy," he said.

On the surface, it seems as though the trade request Jackson's agent made on Wednesday -- first reported by Yahoo and confirmed by a source -- was what frayed his relationship with Durant and some teammates. But his standing with teammates, primarily the leaders of the locker room, had been deteriorating throughout the season. The request simply hammered home what everyone in the organization knew since October: Reggie Jackson didn't want to be there.

Jackson said as much, stating publicly in training camp that he wanted to be a starter. He doubled down in November while filling in for the injured Russell Westbrook, saying, "I'm just trying to fill my role while I'm here."

Jackson is headed for restricted free agency this summer, and the Thunder made an attempt to re-sign him, reportedly offering a four-year, $48 million extension. Thunder general manager Sam Presti called Jackson a "core member." But like James Harden before him, Jackson wanted more than money. He wanted something the Thunder could never give him.

So the Thunder were left with was an impossible situation: trying to salvage a doomed relationship, with the hope that Jackson would at least buy in for the remainder of the season and save hunting for a new role and bigger payday until the summer. The team had -- and still has -- championship aspirations, and Jackson was set to play a key role in that. Not merely as Westbrook's backup and stand-in, but as a dynamic playmaker to supplement the Thunder's attack-oriented offense. Like Harden before him, Jackson provided a third perimeter option, which helped alleviate the tendency of Durant and Westbrook falling into a "your turn, my turn" rhythm.

Instead, Jackson went another way. The trade request was the final straw, but Jackson's play spoke louder than anything. A premier finisher, the 24-year-old stopped attacking the basket with regularity, attempting 5.1 shots per 48 minutes in the restricted area this season compared to 6.1 last season. He stopped the ball, searching for long step-back jumpers (he's taken 110 shots from 15-19 feet this season; he took 99 all of last season). He annoyed teammates with his constant buzzer-clutching, holding on to the ball instead of heaving from long distance at the end of a quarter. He was often nothing more than a traffic cone defensively. Jackson went from a game-changing Sixth Man of the Year candidate to an inconsistent liability at times.

Two days before the Thunder's season opener in Portland, Jackson sprained his ankle and missed the team's first two games. In their third game, the Nov. 1 home opener against the Nuggets, Jackson was cleared to play, but according to a source, refused to because of disappointment that he wasn't traded before the Oct. 31 extension deadline for first-round picks entering their fourth season, like Harden before him. Jackson spoke at shootaround that morning, coyly saying he probably wouldn't play that night. Immediately after finishing his session, he grabbed a ball and threw down an impressive drop-step windmill dunk -- in front of reporters and his teammates. Remember: This was when the Thunder were piecing together a roster without Durant and Westbrook, and only had eight active players available.

Jackson made his season debut the following game in Brooklyn, and teammates -- notably Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka -- were visibly frustrated with him, even appearing to freeze him out at times.

With the situation growing increasingly toxic, the Thunder acquired Dion Waiters in a three-team deal in January, essentially sealing Jackson's deadline fate. Jackson's minutes dipped month after month -- from 28.4 per game in December to 19.0 in February -- and coach Scott Brooks favored Waiters in closing lineups. With Waiters, the Thunder now had insurance, someone to aid in filling the second-unit void without Jackson.

In the locker room, the divide was growing. Injuries to Durant were keeping the team from finding a rhythm, and without the band-aid of winning to heal wounds, the Thunder's chemistry was suffering. The cliquish aspect was impossible not to notice. Jackson, Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb all had lockers together on one side; Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka were on the other. Jackson, Lamb and Jones are close, shooting pregame together and often leaving the arena together. All three had also fallen out of favor with Brooks.

When the Thunder acquired Waiters, his locker was initially placed next to Jackson's, alongside Lamb and Jones. He spent two games in that location before Durant and Westbrook requested he be moved across to the other side, next to them. The official reason was said to be for integration purposes, to help Waiters get to know the team's leaders and learn from them. But it's hard not to see it as an attempt to move him away from one clique and into another.

Jackson's situation parallels directly with Harden's: a talented young sixth man in search of a stepping out of Westbrook and Durant's shadow. But it played out far differently. Harden's said all the right things publicly while a different scenario played out behind closed doors. Then again, Harden was dealt before that Oct. 31 deadline, never presenting a chance for his situation to dissolve the way it did for Jackson.

Like Harden, Jackson could validate himself and then some. He's a fantastic player. Filling in for Westbrook in November, Jackson averaged 20.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists, which are, you know, Westbrook-ish numbers. (The Thunder, though, went 3-10 with Jackson as a starter this season.) In Game 4 against Memphis last postseason, Jackson saved the Thunder's series with 32 points. He was in tears after the game.

Jackson may elevate into an All-Star-caliber player. He has massive potential, a dogged work ethic and an especially strong belief in himself. He simply couldn't be the player he saw himself as with the Thunder.

As Durant said Thursday, "He got what he wanted. You can't really --." He paused for a second to think. But he'd already said all that needed to be said.

"He got what he wanted," he repeated.