This offseason the Los Angeles Clippers will make a decision that may impact the future of their franchise: whether or not to re-sign restricted free agent DeAndre Jordan. Their choice will not only have implications on the time share at the center position (possibly resulting in the departure of Chris Kaman), but LA’s cap space moving forward, as well as the potential of Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon re-signing with the team. Before the Clippers decide their future, they will have to determine Jordan’s value, the rest of the free agency market and the terms of the new CBA.
Jordan’s rapid development this season is far from conventional. Through his first two seasons, his role fluctuated as Chris Kaman, Zach Randolph, Marcus Camby and Craig Smith anchored the paint for the Clips. Up until that point, Jordan had only shown flashes of potential by the sporadic, thunderous dunk or a swatted shot.
Jordan’s inconsistency undermined his success, production and playing time. At times, he barely looked like a rotation player (and definitely not a starter). Jordan lacked any semblance of a post move (or any outside shooting ability), made questionable decisions on both sides of the court, struggled with poor free throw shooting and committed far too many fouls. As a result, Clippers’ fans, players and management had no idea what to expect going into this year.
But 2010-2011 season marked a new opportunity for Jordan. With Camby and Randolph departed, Blake Griffin healthy, and Chris Kaman injured (after the seventh game of the season), LA’s front-court had an opening for Jordan to start and take on a larger role.
Jordan’s first impressions as a starter confirmed the public’s pessimistic fears. He averaged 4.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 0.6 blocks in 19.9 minutes throughout November (his first month starting), rarely playing significant minutes because of foul trouble or lack of production. After acclimating himself to a new supporting cast, starting role and head coach, though, Jordan began to blossom.
Jordan averaged 7-to-8 points, 8-to-9 rebounds and over 2 blocks per game in the following months. Adding in his sky-high field goal percentage of .686 (he led the league out of players who played at least 30 games) and you have the recipe of a starting big man. Jordan’s free throw shooting increased by eight percent (.375 to .452), his field goal percentage at the rim increased (.638 to .737) and his PER jumped up from 12.66 to 14.72. Granted, he was usually only taking 4 to 5 shots per game, 99 percent of which were at the rim or within nine feet, but his improvement was undeniable.
How many big men achieved Jordan’s stats last season (averaging at least 7 points and 7 rebounds with over 1.5 blocks)? Just ten — Dwight Howard, Al Jefferson, Emeka Okafor, Tim Duncan, Sam Dalembert, Javale McGee, Roy Hibbert, Andrew Bynum, Andrew Bogut and Marc Gasol. That’s quite a group to be associated with. In addition, Jordan ranked eighth in total blocks, tenth in blocks per game and fifth in block percent (stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com). According to 82games.com, Jordan led the league in crunch-time blocks per 48 minutes, averaging 6.9, almost a block and a half more than Tyrus Thomas, who averaged 5.5 blocks and finished in second place.
Offensively, Jordan remained a limited factor, but increased his efficiency significantly. He doesn’t have many (any?) post moves or shooting range, but he can finish around the rim, convert tip-ins and put-backs, and dunk anytime he’s within a few feet of the rim. Most importantly, Jordan understands his role as a fourth or fifth option offensively and doesn’t force things. He rarely takes bad shots, doesn’t over-dribble and isn’t a black hole down low. Combine those factors with his youth, athleticism and size, and Jordan is an enticing free-agent prospect.
Most big men with Jordan’s talent and ability are making at least $5 to $6 million per year, which appears to be the bare minimum amount that Jordan will be earning after this summer. With his potential, defensive prowess and length, Jordan could even be in the running for making $10 to $11 million if a team is sold on his future. For the Clippers, that would be too high, but somewhere in the $7 to $ 8 million seems about right for someone who can still grow into a defensive stalwart.
With that said, there are two main deterrents that may prevent the Clippers from re-signing Jordan. The first is Chris Kaman. Kaman’s offensive skills will garner him playing time as long as he’s healthy, creating a potential platoon at the center position. Can the Clippers afford to pay their two centers over $20 million combined (Kaman makes around $12 million), when neither plays much power forward? It’s a tough question, but with Kaman’s age (29-years-old compared to the soon-to-be 23-year-old Jordan), injury history and sudden decline last season (major drop-off from 2010), it seems his best years are behind him. The same can’t be said for Jordan, who will only continue to get better, even if it’s minimally.
Secondly, Jordan is a severely flawed player who, despite boasting amazing defensive skills, is far from a polished product. On the season, he had only eight double-doubles in 80 games and 66 starts, proving his rebounding skills have yet to fully develop. He has no consistent post move, lacks any shooting outside of a few feet, and is one of the worst foul shooters in the league. It is clear that he lacks confidence on the offensive end, something he will have to address this off-season. Add with his propensity for mindless fouls (he ranked tenth in total fouls), and Jordan has a ways to go before he can positively impact a game each and every night.
Jordan is light-hearted and playful (sometimes viewed as immature). Although this mindset may negatively affect his development and/or play, stars such as LeBron James and Dwight Howard have done just fine with the same knocks of a ‘lack of seriousness’ or ‘no killer instinct.’ In the end, Jordan’s determination to improve, which he showed this season, will decide his legacy and worth to the Clippers.
Although Jordan has his drawbacks, his re-signing may be the best move for the Clippers. He is best friends with Blake Griffin, presumably meaning that Griffin’s confidence and happiness with the organization will be affected by whether Jordan returns.
His shot-blocking ability erases Griffin’s length deficiencies, which is why seven of LA’s top-10 most productive five-man units feature Jordan (including the top six). He won’t demand the ball, and will fall in line behind Griffin, Gordon and whoever else the Clippers find as a third scoring option. He may never be Hakeem Olajuwon offensively, but he has the potential to have at least a Tyson Chandler-type affect on the Clippers defensively.
At this point, though, any discussion is purely speculation, as the details of the new CBA have yet to be determined. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how the Clippers react to Jordan’s impending free agency. Will they match any offer that’s made, keeping him at all costs? Will they let him go if the price is too high? Will they only pursue him at a discount?
With his seemingly limitless defensive potential, size, length, athleticism and sudden emergence, Jordan is due for quite a payday this summer. The question is, will it be with the Clippers?