All this week at Fear the Sword, we’re remembering players who have been forgotten in Cleveland Cavaliers history. Here’s the first of five.
In 2004, a year after selecting LeBron James No. 1 overall, the Cavaliers picked No. 9 overall. That year, the Cavs had the ninth best odds to land the No. 1 pick a year after having the best odds. Such is life when you add LeBron to your team.
The 2004 Draft is full of players who had (and are still having) good NBA careers. Dwight Howard went No. 1 overall to the Magic. Luol Deng went No. 7 to the Bulls. Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and J.R. Smith — and many more — were picked too. At No. 8, just before the Cavs picked, the 76ers landed Andre Iguodala.
And who did Cleveland get to pair with LeBron? Luke Jackson, a small forward from Oregon who played four years in college. Anderson Varejao also came from this draft, but via a trade with the Magic, as the Cavs didn’t have a second round pick after trading it to the Raptors.
The appeal of Jackson was obvious. During his senior year, he shot 44 percent from three on 5.4 attempts per game. He was an All-American that year and a finalist for theJohn R. Wooden Award and Naismith College Player of the Year award. He was skilled on offense and had good size at 6’7”. In the 2004 NBA, before LeBron as a small ball four became a thing, he wasn’t going to be used to unlock lineups like he could have been now. But even then, especially at the No. 9 spot where franchise-defining talents aren’t normally available, adding a older player who could space the floor next to LeBron made a lot sense.
That is until Jackson’s career never got going. He herniated two discs on the first day of Summer League and told Ridiculous Upside in 2016 that he was better his freshman year in high school than he was as a rookie. As a rookie in 2004-05, he played in just 10 games and shot a total of six threes. In his second year, in 2005-06, he played in 36 games, but never made a real impact. By then, it was clear how good LeBron was and how little Jackson mattered to the team’s plans.
Jackson was traded to the Celtics before the 2006-07 season for basically nothing. From there, he bounced around with a number of NBA teams — he even had a 30 point game with the Heat in 2008 — as well as in the D-League and overseas. After more injuries did him in, he retired in 2011. He is now the coach at Northwest Christian University, a NAIA school in Eugene, Oregon.
It’s hard to blame Jackson for anything that happened with his career; injuries ruin careers and always will. But his career, and how the Cavs built around the LeBron the first time, are linked.
Maybe, if Jackson had worked out, the Cavs are able to build a more sustainable, financially flexible team around LeBron before the summer of 2010. Maybe giving him another useful player, one who could have been more than a role player, would have give the Cavs a better chance to win. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered at all — would Jackson have really changed the Cavs’ chances of winning the title in 2007? Maybe LeBron was going to leave no matter what.
But it’s worth asking: what if Luke Jackson had worked out, or what if the Cavs have taken someone in the 2004 Draft who wasn’t Luke Jackson?
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