Stephen Jackson is like the kid in high school who always had a rumor swirling around his actions. Perhaps some of the rumor was true, but likely, there were two sides of the story, some half-truths and other all-out lies.
Some insist Jackson is a club cancer, fierce words for fans and writers who don't know the man.
Others feel he's a little off with a lot of talent when he's motivated.
The problem is, at 33 years of age, one shouldn't have to find motivation to shoot a ball through a hoop for nearly $10 million.
Are they winning as a rallying cry to the unfortunate injury to Andrew Bogut? Or in spite of Jackson? Or both?
My take is it's a little of both.
When the Bucks have been on fire, they've had almost a "no-name" team.
They seem motivated by the lack of respect when pundits paint their squad as not having a true superstar or containing only misfit pieces of other team's castoffs.
For the inception of "Fear the Deer," Brandon Jennings was a rookie, and his only "on-paper" supporting cast included Bogut who fans still weren't sure would fulfill his potential (though his value was certainly on the rise just before Jennings came to town).
The Bucks had retiree Jerry Stackhouse respectably contributing, ancient giant Kurt Thomas leading the youngsters and a misunderstood new addition in Carlos Delfino lighting it up from downtown regularly.
And then this unheard of second-round rookie with no offensive game, Luc Richard Mbahmoute, is beginning to carve out what has become a top-notch defensive specialist role as possibly the best defender in the NBA (who else can guard every position, every superstar, night-in-night-out while frustrating the likes of Kobe and Lebron?)
Most casual NBA fans wouldn't know the Bucks starting lineup from their backups in 2009 or today, and the Bucks seem to like that.
When they make their singular signings of presumable saviors for the offense, the Bucks seem to fail (see John Salmons' full year and the Corey Magette experiment for prime examples). But when they throw caution into the wind and ask any of several lesser-known players to step up, they seem to thrive.
The ball is happier when you know it doesn't have to go to one person or one set play every time. And the game is more exciting this way.
How this all connects to Stephen Jackson, you might ask? Well, the answer is simple: The Bucks don't necessarily need to mention Stephen Jackson; they aren't required to move him or discipline him if he sits quietly.
Meanwhile, in Jackson's corner of the imaginary battle he seems to pit himself in every year, the more the Bucks win, the more he should want to contribute.
The famous saying "winning is contagious" is very true, and the surprising kid in Jennings is leading with much more maturity and impressive performances than the 33-year old Jackson.
My advice to Bucks management is to lay out two options for Jackson in a heart-to-heart with the man directly and honestly:
1. Get your head on straight. Play hard, be a model for the younger players and play team basketball for over $9 million this year, and we'll be in the playoffs with a shot to surprise the higher seeds.
2. Keep imagining you're an elite NBA star, underperform, lose future value and sit the bench. Imagine the entire NBA will work out several trades so both you and Dwight Howard can play together; how charming.
That said, if any teams want a consistent loser who complains that his teams aren't winning, give the Bucks a call. We'll take any player willing to play defense and hustle with versatile, underrated offensive talents, and we'll beat the superstar-laden teams regularly.
Skiles seems to be doing a good job of redirecting the focus of the team's identity on the guys who are contributing to team-oriented basketball. There's nothing worse than playing on a team where the entire public focus remains on a primadonna or headcase while all the other guys work their tails off.
I'll take a bad day of Ersan Ilysova over a great singular night from Jackson if it means seeing Ersan hustling for rebounds, bringing pesky defense and maybe missing a few shots if it brings out greatness in his team.
The same could be said for Drew Gooden's rejuvenated and effective play. He makes his teammates better, and that's hard to measure in the stats column.
Similarly, Mike Dunleavy, Jr. seems to have found a perfect home for his game. He shoots when it's there, often draining big shots, but keeps the ball "happy" by moving it among his teammates, and that's what Coach Skiles and GM John Hammond have wanted to build for some time.
Some might say the Bucks have a locker-room cancer, but I think they have a talented, winning 10-man rotation full of health and basketball vibrancy.
Perhaps the winning atmosphere will even cure Jackson of his melancholia.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!