I waited a couple of hours after finding out the news that DeAndre Jordan would be heading to the Mavericks on a four-year, $80 million contract, as first reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein, to sit down and write this. It was too fresh in my mind at first. I couldn’t gather my thoughts. Everything was scattered.
So, when you flip through this and encounter the inevitable moment when I start to sound like a maniac, just know that a few hours ago—when I sounded, looked and acted like I could’ve been a Nicolas Cage character—things were much worse.
It’s official, though—kind of, contracts can’t officially be signed until July 10—DeAndre Jordan, one of the most likable and productive Clippers in the franchise’s history is now gone from L.A.
Let’s run through some unfiltered thoughts:
• First, I really hope D.J. doesn’t get booed when he comes back to Staples Center for the first time. Seeing his evolution over the past seven years was one of the most exciting individual transformations for Clippers fans, and he did it while always seeming like the coolest guy in the room. I’ll still root for him, even if there is some natural bitterness left over. I’ll let Lee Ann Womack take it from here:
• This entire process was basketball irony at its finest. One of my favorite Doc Rivers things, if not my overall favorite, was the way he handled Jordan over the past two years—not just because of the way he improved on the court, but because of the way he rebuilt his confidence after the previous coaching staff had spent years tearing it down.
From the moment Rivers arrived in L.A., he started talking about a Big 3 which included Jordan and not just a Big 2 of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. He spent interview after interview, presser after presser talking up D.J. And from all appearances, it worked. Jordan got better and better as morale reformed. Those sorts of features are Rivers’ best as a coach. You can complain about his career as an executive all you want, and the Clippers are more screwed—can I say, “screwed?”—now than ever, but he still manages personalities as gracefully as anyone else. But here’s the problem: Doc may have created his own version of Frankenstein’s monster.
He spent so many days telling the world about D.J.’s talent that Jordan started to believe it. We joked when he made the hyperbolic Bill Russell comparisons, but they worked. The point was to make Jordan think he actually was that good so he’d start playing with a different sort of instilled confidence. We now know, according to Dan Woike of the OC Register and others who have speculated, that one of the reasons D.J. left is because he wanted to be “the man” on his own team, something which would never happen as long as he was alongside Paul and Griffin. But is Jordan actually capable of that? Sure, he was superb when Griffin was out for six weeks this past season, but can he sustain that over a full season as Devin Harris or Jeremy Lin (speculatively) plays point guard for him? It’s not like he’s going to go from L.A. to Dallas and see his shot attempts shoot up from 6.5 a game to 15. He’s one of the best pick-and-roll threats in the league, but that’s because of his affect as a finisher. You can’t run short rolls with him because he doesn’t handle the ball well in the half court and is an inconsistent passer at best, especially when he has to make quick decisions. You can’t give him the ball in the post because he doesn’t have a back-to-the-basket game from outside three feet and if he gets close enough to the rim, the opposition can just foul him and exploit his sub-40 percent free-throw shooting. A touch on the block here or there, like when Vinny Del Negro used to begin every game with a D.J. post-up, won’t kill a team. But it’s also not what makes someone “the man.” It’ll be interesting to see exactly what a bigger role in the offense will look like for someone with Jordan’s skill set.
He was in the perfect basketball role for that in L.A., but Rivers created someone who wanted more. It’s not that he isn’t a star. He’s just a complementary one. And it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which he starts to put up non-empty prime Dwight Howard numbers just because he’s higher up in the offensive pecking order.
• What does this mean for Paul Pierce? Pierce agreed to the tax-payer’s mid-level exception (about $10.6 million over three years), but the Clips are going to have the full mid-level (about $5.5 million) now that they aren’t a tax paying team. Does Pierce take only part of the mid-level? Does he now demand the whole thing? Does he realize the team has other needs only to downgrade himself graciously to a minimum deal? And oddly, does he feel duped?
When the Clips lined Pierce up, it seemed like a sign Jordan was going to return. We knew the cliché reasons it made sense for him to come to L.A.: He was born and raised in the area; He played for Doc Rivers for years in Boston. But Pierce, as every basketball fan knows, is one of the most competitive men in today’s or any year’s game. Would he really want to come to a team that isn’t rebuilding but is reconstructing?
Pierce’s presence didn’t make it seem like a guarantee, but it did appear to be a reassurance that Jordan would return. If Rivers sold him on coming to the Clippers because of winning and part of that winning was all of the traits Jordan brings, does Pierce regret the deal? And if he does, will he do anything about it since, as mentioned earlier, these agreement’s aren’t legally binding until they’re signed on July 10 or later?
• This year is basically a wash, right? It’s impossible to say the Clippers roster as currently constructed is a certain playoff team. Sure, Portland will probably fall out of the Western Conference playoff picture, but depending on how the rest of the offseason plays out, the Clips might not even be in the top eight.
If the Clips fix the fringes of the roster (nothing in Rivers’ past as an exec says this should be expected), Griffin and Paul have superb years (possible if not likely) and L.A. finds success in a small-ball lineup with Pierce at the 4 and Griffin at the 5, they can still be a 50-plus win playoff team. It’s hardly out of the question. But their stock is more volatile today than it’s been in years.
The Jazz are bound to make a big jump after putting up by far the best defensive numbers in the league during the second half of this past season. A healthy Thunder squad is clearly entering the postseason. New Orleans could get better and jump the Clips with the addition of Alvin Gentry and the maturation of Anthony Davis. It’s probably a given that the Spurs and Grizzlies will do the same. What if the Suns get LaMarcus Aldridge? They’d have to be a playoff team, too, right? And where does that leave the Clippers, almost regardless of what happens the rest of the summer? Very possibly on the outside looking in.
• The Jared Dudley trade is looking slightly worse now than it already did. The 2017 first-rounder the Clippers gave up to unload Dudley in that deal (now with the Raptors after the Bucks sent it to Toronto for Greivis Vasquez on draft night) could be in no-man’s land for the Clips. It’s top-14 protected. What if L.A. ends up just barely outside the lottery in 2017 because it whiffs during the 2016 offseason, as it’s done this year with Jordan? It’s one thing for the Clippers to give up one of the final five picks of the first round (like they probably thought would be the case when they made the trade last summer), but that’s why you put stricter protections on these picks. Or, you know, just stop giving away all your assets so when the team does hit the brink of implosion, you’re able to squeeze your way out of the building before getting buried beneath the rubble.
•Now, let’s get to the important stuff. What can the Clippers do in the short-term to remedy the hole created with D.J.’s absence? Do they look for a short-term plug and then hope to spend big with cap room during 2016 free agency? If that’s the case, you know the Kevin Durant-to-L.A. rumors are only seconds away, right? So, who could work for a single season?
Kosta Koufos is still out there, and though even with DeAndre gone, the Clips don’t have nearly enough cap room to sign him, they could try their best to work a sign-and-trade. L.A. would have almost $65 million on the books for next year even if it waived the non-guaranteed deals of Jordan Hamilton and Lester Hudson. But wouldn’t Memphis have to consider picking up J.J. Redick or Jamal Crawford for Koufos in such a deal? The Grizzlies have been looking for perimeter shooting every summer for…forever, right? Redick fits a need for them. Crawford arguably does, too. Koufos—a starting-caliber center who just happens to have been a backup for the past few years—would be an obvious downgrade, but is still capable. It’s not perfect, and Redick is the better basketball player in a vacuum, but L.A. is in as vulnerable a situation as it’s been in years. There’s no way to fix the leak. You can only use duct tape and pray to the basketball gods it’s sticky enough.
Crawford’s contract is past its guarantee date, which means someone—maybe not the Clippers, but someone—will owe him $5.7 million next season. But he’s still tradable to a degree. Do you try sending him to the Bucks, who now have a surplus at center after signing Greg Monroe, for Zaza Pachulia? Do you talk to the Wizards, who may not actually be interested in Crawford after signing Gary Neal for the biannual exception Friday, about Kris Humphries? Do you call up Kevin Pritchard and Larry Bird to inquire about a Crawford-for-Ian Mahinmi swap? Or do you really pull out the big guns? Maybe there’s some way the Clips can convince Dallas to turn the Jordan signing into a sign-and-trade. Obviously, with all the cap room the Mavs have, they’re not going to do it just to help out the Clips, but if they had some incentive, it could be a different story.
Let’s think: Monta Ellis just agreed to a deal with the Pacers. The Pacers are looking to unload Roy Hibbert and the $15.5 million remaining on his contract. Maybe you work a three-way deal that includes sending Ellis to Indy, Hibbert to L.A. and Jordan to Dallas with the Pacers giving up a future pick to the Mavs to sweeten the deal. Orrrrr you can get really nuts.
The Clippers would have to wait until August 15, when they can officially flip the recently acquired Lance Stephenson, but maybe they could build a deal which would send Lance back to Indiana along with Crawford (for salary reasons) for Hibbert.
This is all riffing. Who knows if any of this is going to happen. But the Clippers have to get creative. A man (or team) without anything to lose can be the scariest. So, maybe we see the most unexpected move of them all.
• Should the Clippers shop Chris Paul? Paul is 30 years old, he has three years left on his contract, and who knows how many seasons he has remaining in his prime, though he was absolutely outstanding this season? But you can still get full value for him. There’s no reason to be active about it, considering L.A. has two of the 10 best players in the league on its roster, something that would be nearly impossible to recreate. But there’s no reason not to listen, either. If someone makes the Clips a Bob Ryan offer, Rivers has to hear ‘em out.
Wait a second. I’m talking about trading Chris Paul now? That’s it. My mind has officially opened the window in its bedroom, climbed down drainpipe and snuck off to a party at the most popular kid in school’s house.
Oh em gee, did you hear Johnny’s parents are out of town??
OK, I’ve lost it. I’m done. I’m projecting my recent abandonment issues and awkwardly leaving without saying bye.