- Marc Stein, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson still isn't saying much about Tuesday's meeting with disgruntled forward Stephen Jackson, but Jackson has told a Bay Area newspaper that he is prepared to rejoin the team after serving a two-game suspension for a sideline blowup with Nelson.
"I've got no choice but to go out there," Jackson said in a phone interview Monday with the Contra Costa Times. "I'm just going to do my job. I don't want to be fake. I'm just going to go and play basketball and handle my business."
The sitdown was scheduled by Nelson and Warriors general manager Larry Riley to discuss face-to-face with Jackson how to proceed in the wake of Jackson's well-chronicled request to be traded and subsequent spat with Nelson on the bench during the first quarter of the Warriors' exhibition victory last Friday in Los Angeles.
Before the Warriors' preseason game Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, Nelson declined to share what he hopes to achieve in the chat with Jackson, telling reporters: "I don't have an agenda. We're just meeting. It'll be a private meeting."
But sources with knowledge of Golden State's thinking told ESPN.com on Monday that the Warriors do want to get Jackson back on the floor as soon as possible if reinstating him does not lead to further distractions, believing that it will be even more difficult to trade Jackson than it already is if he is not playing regularly.
The Warriors, sources said, do not want to send Jackson home for an extended stay until they can find a deal, as the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks did last season with Jamaal Tinsley and Stephon Marbury, respectively, before ultimately negotiating buyouts with both players when trades couldn't be struck.
A buyout would not be feasible in Jackson's case, given that he's earning $7.6 million this season before entering into a three-year contract extension worth $27.8 million starting with the 2010-11 season. So the Warriors will undoubtedly prefer to hear that Jackson is indeed prepared to return to work.
ESPN.com reported Sunday that the Warriors, according to sources, remain willing to grant Jackson's wish to be traded as long as they can find a palatable deal, which is what Nelson said publicly in late September. Sources say that Golden State has indeed made and fielded numerous trade calls regarding Jackson since his desire to leave was made public in late August, but no deal appears close in an economy where teams are overwhelmingly reluctant to take on players in their 30s possessing long-term contracts.
"If something happens, then it happens," Jackson told the newspaper Monday when asked about being traded. "But I'm just going to play, just do what I do."
ESPN.com reported Sept. 15 that Nelson had no plans to strip Jackson of his captaincy in the wake of Jackson's wish to be dealt to Cleveland, New York or one of the three Texas teams, which Jackson revealed at a Dime Magazine party in New York. But it remains unclear whether Jackson's two-game suspension will affect his captaincy, after Nelson, as promised, re-established the 31-year-old as a co-captain at the start of this season along with center Andris Biedrins, guard Monta Ellis and forward Ronny Turiaf.
When pressed for specifics before Monday's game against the Clippers, Nelson said: "I'm not going to comment on [Jackson's situation]."
Jackson was hit Saturday with a two-game suspension that kept him out of the Warriors' outdoor game for what was deemed "conduct detrimental to the team." His clash with Nelson occurred Friday night after Jackson went to the bench having racked up five fouls and a technical foul in just over nine minutes against the Lakers.
Sources said Jackson screamed expletives at Nelson at least twice before being sent to the locker room. Sitting out the two games cost him $139,091 in salary, which takes Jackson's financial losses for the season to nearly $165,000 after factoring in a $25,000 fine he received from the NBA for publicly requesting a trade.
Jackson told the newspaper that he was upset that Nelson and the rest of the Warriors' bench not only exposed him to trouble by leaving him in the game after his third foul in the first quarter but also for not sufficiently sticking up for him with the replacement referees working that night after Jackson's multiple tangles with Kobe Bryant.
"I felt like I didn't get handled right in the game," Jackson said Monday. "I know I did what I'm supposed to do being a man. I'm not going to let Kobe throw elbows at me.
"[Things are] always made out to make me look bad. At the end of the day, I wouldn't disrespect [Nelson] like that. But I was mad at our staff for not having my back. If I'm going to go out there and bust my ass for you, I expect you to have my back."
The newspaper also reported that Jackson spent Monday at the Oakland Zoo with his wife while missing the Warriors' 124-117 loss to the Clippers to complete the suspension.
Trade interest in Jackson would undoubtedly be widespread if he was entering the final year of his contract. He not only possesses championship experience after helping the San Antonio Spurs win their second of four titles in 2003 but last season ranked alongside LeBron James, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade in the exclusive club of players to average at least 20 points, six assists and five rebounds per game.
But the extension Jackson signed early last season has hampered the Warriors' efforts to find him a new home -- and focus on the promising youngsters they've stockpiled such as forward Anthony Randolph, sharpshooter Anthony Morrow and rookie guard Stephen Curry -- in spite of Jackson's mostly positive playoff history.
Jackson has been the Warriors' emotional leader almost from the time he arrived in a January 2007 trade with Indiana, leaving behind a controversial past with the Pacers marked by his participation in the melee in Detroit that spilled into the stands at the Palace of Auburn Hills in November 2004.
Led by Baron Davis and Jackson, Golden State halted a 12-season playoff drought with its late surge into the No. 8 spot and subsequent first-round upset of the 67-win Dallas Mavericks in '07. The Warriors then finished as the most successful non-playoff team in the history of the NBA's 16-team playoff format with a record of 48-34 as the West's No. 9 seed in 2007-08.
But Jackson's discontent has been brewing since Davis left town to sign as a free agent with the Clippers in July 2008. Sources say that unhappiness spilled over this offseason after the Warriors' attempts to acquire Amare Stoudemire from the Phoenix Suns broke down in June after the NBA draft.
Jackson apparently believed that Stoudemire's arrival was imminent, but sources close to the situation insist that the Stoudemire deal was never as close to fruition as some suggested, with Golden State unwilling to part with its lottery pick once Curry became available to the Warriors with the No. 7 overall selection and with Stoudemire believed to be unwilling to commit to a contract extension in Oakland.
Stoudemire can opt out of his Suns contract at season's end if he is willing to forfeit his $17.6 million salary for 2010-11, which would make him one of the league's prized free agents in the much-anticipated summer of 2010. On top of its concerns about Stoudemire's recovery from eye and knee problems, Golden State inevitably would have wanted assurances that it could have secured Stoudemire for the long term before parting with any prized assets.
Asked last week if he was ever worried that Phoenix was close to sending him to Golden State, Stoudemire told ESPN.com: "It was still up to me, but that's something I really don't discuss too much. I just want to focus on what we have at hand."
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.
Stephen Jackson reportedly is resigned to returning to the Warriors.