It’s Sunday night and the Washington Wizards have just beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers by a final score of 96-83. Starting guard Jarrett Jack shot 3-11 from the floor, didn’t get to the free throw line once and had the same number of turnovers as assists. This is not a good line, but it is the kind of night that Cavaliers fans have unfortunately come to expect from Jack. Over the last five games, Jack is shooting 32.6 percent from the floor and compounds his problems on offense by playing poorly on the defensive end as well. The question for the fans, Cavalier organization, and Jack himself is simply this; What Happened?
It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Jack in Cleveland. When he signed with the Cavaliers he was coming off a solid year with the Golden State Warriors in which he finished third in the Sixth Man of the Year voting and had a tremendous playoff series against the Denver Nuggets. Warriors coach Mark Jackson had raved about Jack’s character and leadership. Jack had complimented starting guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson perfectly, and when he signed with the Cavaliers the hope was that he would be equally effective with guards Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. Sure the Cavaliers had given Jack a lot of money with a four year, $25.2 million dollar deal (three years guaranteed), but it only seemed like a slight overpay from someone with his ability and leadership. Besides, it seemed like the Cavaliers would easily be able to trade Jack if the need ever arose.
Fast forward to February and nothing could be further from the truth. Jack is shooting roughly 39 percent from the field and his PER, effective field goal percentage, and true shooting percentage are all on pace to be the lowest for any full season of his career. He has also not been the influence in the locker room the Cavaliers had hoped for as reports of conflict within the team have been rampant for much of the season (while those issues cannot be pinned on Jack, he also hasn’t helped any). The Cavaliers openly shopped Jack at the trading deadline and while teams such as the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings showed interest, they were only willing to trade the Cavaliers the equally undesirable contracts of players such as Jason Terry, J.J. Barea, Marcus Thornton, and Jason Thompson, all of whom are arguably having even worse seasons than Jack. The Cavaliers decided to hold onto Jack, likely due to the deals available and possibly the six game winning streak the team was on at the time.
Now, with twenty-five games remaining, the Cavaliers need to decide what to do with Jack both this season and beyond, while there are many possibilities regarding trades and role changes, the following scenarios seem the most likely.
Return to a Backup Role
While the Cavaliers as a team have played better with Jack in the starting lineup, that has very little to do with the man himself. Meanwhile C.J. Miles, the man he replaced in the starting lineup, is having a far better season than Jack. While not the distributor Jack is, Miles does have the ability to create his own shot, provide spacing with his three-point shooting, and is a far better defender than Jack. It may be time to return him to the starting lineup. This would also allow Jack to run the offense for the second unit, which may be necessary due to the recent injury of Dion Waiters.
Removal from the Rotation
This probably won’t happen even when Miles and Waiters return to action, but maybe it should. Jack has been far worse than Irving, Miles, and Waiters, and arguably worse than rookie Matthew Dellavedova. With full health, the Cavaliers could have a backcourt rotation of Irving, Miles, Waiters, and Dellavedova that may be more effective than any options involving Jack. There is also a chance the Cavaliers could sign a recent buyout such as Roger Mason Jr. or Beno Udrih who would also be upgrades over Jack. That being said, this would also torpedo what little trade value Jack has and upset one of the few true veterans this locker room has.
Keeping the Status Quo
There may be a method to Mike Brown’s madness with the rotation when everyone is healthy. By starting Jack at shooting guard, Brown had essentially made him a show starter before Waiters’ injury. Prior to the All-Star Break Brown had begun to limit Jack to under twenty minutes per game by having him start each half, but giving Waiters most of the minutes at shooting guard as well as some of Kyrie Irving’s minutes. Dellavedova just filled in the holes. This also allowed Miles to backup Luol Deng at small forward as well as get some minutes at shooting guard while Waiters ran the second unit. With this rotation Brown was able to give his best perimeter players; Irving, Waiters, Deng, and Miles more run while keeping Jack in the rotation and taking some advantage of his passing ability by playing Irving off the ball at times. Besides limiting Jack’s minutes, these lineups eliminated Earl Clark from the rotation before his departure and also did the same to Alonzo Gee prior to the recent rash of injuries. The best players were playing the most minutes.
The only way the Cavalier will get any sort of value for Jack would be if there paired him with either a young player such as Dion Waiters or a lightly protected first round pick in a multi-player trade. It’s far more likely that he will eventually be traded for a player on an equally ornery deal who may be a better fit with the Cavaliers. In addition to the players previously discussed, an offseason trade for the likes of Corey Brewer, Chase Budinger, or O.J. Mayo are possible scenarios.
Whatever the Cavaliers do, chances are there will be no major changes regarding Jarrett Jack this season. Until then, Cavalier fans can only hope that a regression to the mean helps Jack return to his career norm as a solid NBA player. That certainly needs to happen if this team is going to have any hope of a return to the playoffs this season.