- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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The Golden State Warriors on Monday off-loaded disgruntled forward Stephen Jackson to a non-playoff team, sending him to the Charlotte Bobcats instead of dealing him to one of Jackson's preferred destinations in Cleveland.
In a deal that NBA front-office sources said came together quickly Sunday night after on-and-off talks with the Bobcats in recent weeks, Golden State agreed to send Jackson and guard Acie Law to the Bobcats in exchange for veteran swingmen Raja Bell and Vladimir Radmanovic.
The teams announced that they completed the deal, first reported by ESPN.com, shortly after 11 a.m. ET.
Jackson was in a hotel room in Milwaukee when he got the call from his agent, Mark Stevens, on Monday morning. He immediately hopped on a plane to Orlando and started Charlotte's 97-91 loss to the Magic, finishing with 13 points and nine rebounds.
"I wanted to be out pretty bad," Jackson told The Associated Press. "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."
The Cavaliers had long been considered the favorites to land the Warriors' former captain in the wake of Jackson's trade demand late in the summer, when the 31-year-old announced that he hoped to be dealt to the Cavaliers, New York Knicks or one of the three Texas teams.
But ESPN.com reported earlier this month that the Bobcats had quietly registered serious interest in Jackson and could not be dismissed as a threat to acquire him. The Cavaliers found out how serious Charlotte was over the weekend, sources said, when the Warriors chose Charlotte's offer over a Cleveland pitch that involved the signing-and-trading of ex-Cavaliers forward Wally Szczerbiak packaged with troubled guard Delonte West.
Szczerbiak is a free agent after the Cavs elected not to re-sign him and recently underwent minor knee surgery. But the 32-year-old has not ruled out trying to make a comeback this season and is fully eligible -- as long as he reports to the team that trades for him -- to be plugged into a deal by the Cavs in a manner similar to Dallas' signing-and-trading of Keith Van Horn in February 2008 in the Mavericks' complicated trade to reacquire Jason Kidd.
Yet sources said Golden State decided that the Bobcats' offer provided sufficient payroll relief as well as short-term help at the wing positions combined with Bell's proven leadership skills. The Warriors are counting on all that to help them weather Jackson's departure and the potential season-ending knee injury suffered Saturday in Milwaukee by swingman Kelenna Azubuike.
"We can get back to playing basketball," Larry Riley said after his first major move as general manager of the Warriors. "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."
One source close to the situation, though, told ESPN.com that Bell will reconsider undergoing surgery to address a nagging wrist injury upon joining the Warriors.
With its offense badly in need of a boost after failing to reach 80 points in five of its nine games so far, Charlotte had been exchanging proposals with Golden State for some time. But the Bobcats were determined to make the deal without parting with playmaking big man Boris Diaw and hooked the Warriors when they agreed to substitute Bell for center Nazr Mohammed in addition to Radmanovic.
"I know Stephen, he loves to play, and we've got to make it work out -- and I'm confident it will," Bobcats coach Larry Brown told ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan on Friday.
"We are struggling, we can't score," Brown continued, "but one of the reasons we're struggling was because Raja and Flip [Murray] were out and missed a lot of time, and Tyson [Chandler] and Boris basically missed all of preseason. Those are four key guys, plus we didn't have rookie camp or summer league, so our rookies are a little behind. So there's a lot of factors, but yeah, we have had problems scoring the ball. We're defending well, but we just can't make a shot."
Jackson said he was looking forward to playing for Brown, and he didn't miss a chance to take a parting shot at Warriors coach Don Nelson when asked what kind of coach he looks for as a player.
"The kind of coach I want that has your back," Jackson told the AP. "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 told the AP. "As long as they care and as long as they want to get better and are good teammates, I'm OK."
The Warriors, meanwhile, had reached the point where they felt they had to move Jackson as soon as possible in the name of team health. The Warriors were not only privately furious that Jackson would unsettle the team with a trade demand so soon after receiving an extension but also fearful that Jackson's discontent would continue to hang over a group of promising youngsters headlined by Stephen Curry and Anthony Randolph.
So Golden State decided not to wait until Dec. 15, when rookies and players who signed contracts over the summer become eligible to be traded. Cleveland's best offer would have provided more payroll relief, but the Warriors contend that they satisfied multiple objectives by taking the Bobcats' offer.
Bell's $5.3 million contract expires at season's end, while Radmanovic is earning $6.5 million this season and is due to earn $6.9 million next season. Jackson is earning $7.7 million this season before starting a three-year contract extension worth nearly $28 million, so the long-term savings of having Radmanovic on the payroll instead of Jackson is roughly $21 million.
Perhaps as a bonus to the Warriors, this trade also sends Jackson to an unfashionable location on the NBA map.
But Jackson's agent strongly disputed the notion that Jackson would be unhappy about his new team, despite the fact that Charlotte was not on his original wish list and given that the Bobcats have never made the playoffs.
"He's happy about the trade, delighted about the trade," Stevens told Sheridan. "This is what he wanted, a new start, and this gives him a chance to compete. Plus he's a huge fan of that team's president, Michael Jordan."
The Warriors had intensified their efforts to find a trade partner in recent days after Stevens harshly criticized Nelson, adding to the tension that has engulfed the team throughout a 3-6 start.
Bobcats general manager Rod Higgins, who was still working in Golden State when Jackson arrived in a January 2007 trade with the Indiana Pacers, told NBA.com that his organization was undaunted by Jackson's reputation.
"We had an opportunity to bring a starter to our lineup," Higgins said. "A guy we envision starting at the [shooting] guard spot. He's coming off arguably his best season last year. I spoke to Stephen, and he's very excited to come here."
Higgins said he wasn't concerned with Jackson's previous transgressions.
"People's past are indeed that," he told the AP. "Our relationship with him is going to start today."
Jackson is averaging 16.6 points through nine games this season, after averaging 20.7 points and 6.5 assists last season. Charlotte begins play Monday as the NBA's lowest-scoring team at 82.4 points a game.
Marc Stein is a senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher, ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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