Dispatches from Section 213 are coded messages sent via carrier pigeon from the critical thinkers of Staples section 213. They will materialize from time to time with keen and insightful thoughts on a wide array of issues concerning the Clippers.
Garrett Lerner kicks off the series with a rumination on why Doc Rivers standing pat at the trade deadline just may be the best thing for the Clippers.
DeAndre Jordan leads the NBA in rebounding. By a lot. Think about that. This is a league with a healthy Kevin Love. A happy and healthy Dwight Howard. So how did the Clippers’ highly paid but disappointing project of a center morph from lovable goofball to defensive anchor, competitor and third member of the Clippers’ “Big 3?” It’s all about confidence.
I noticed something when the NBA lockout finally and mercifully ended and we all got basketball as our Christmas present in 2011–it was the fact that DeAndre looked good. This was a guy that looked like he had been working on some post moves in the extended offseason. A guy who was ready to take basketball seriously. A guy who would justify his big, new contract and help Blake Griffin and Chris Paul lead the Clippers to new heights. He wasn’t ready to break out just yet, but he was finally showing signs that it was coming. And then something happened. Kenyon Martin joined the Clips in February. The backup big we all wanted and thought they needed. And DeAndre immediately went into the tank. His numbers told the story. Scoring went down. Rebounding went down. But mostly his confidence went down.
The next season rolled around and Jordan looked even more polished in the preseason. Suddenly, there was a little jump hook in the post. And he was hitting it consistently. Was this real? Had the athlete turned into a legitimate basketball player? It appeared so for the first 21 games of the 2012-2013 season. Vinny Del Negro commonly opened almost every game for DeAndre in the post, to get Jordan’s confidence going. But then VDN did a strange thing. Inexplicably, he gave DeAndre’s fourth quarter minutes to Lamar Odom about a quarter way through the season with free throws being the straw man. And from that moment, DeAndre Jordan again regressed; confidence sagged the rest of the season.
Enter Doc Rivers. The best coaching move in Doc’s nascent Clipper tenure was building DJ’s confidence. Doc came in and declared that Jordan was the third member of the “Big 3.” Doc publicly said that DeAndre should be a serious Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Doc sent DeAndre to join Blake and CP3 on the Jimmy Kimmel show. Doc did everything in his power to tell DJ, “You are the man.” And DeAndre believed it. There was no Kenyon Martin or Lamar Odom to steal DJ’s minutes or instill notions of inferiority. And DeAndre’s play has gotten better and better as the season has progressed as opposed to the sharp declines the previous two years.
A perfect example of Rivers steeling DJ’s confidence was two weeks ago against the Toronto Raptors. Dwane Casey elected to Hack-a-DJ on eight straight possessions. It was awful to watch. But there was a game within the game that was fascinating to behold. It was Doc Rivers stoically nodding to DeAndre each time he got fouled. You got this. Doc infused DeAndre with confidence when all the world wanted him to yank the whistle-plagued center so the actual basketball game could resume. And something amazing happened. DeAndre started hitting those free throws. One after the other. And the truth is, he’s been hitting a lot of them ever since.
So as the trade deadline approached, I was worried. Will whichever backup big the Clippers went and got dent DeAndre’s confidence like Kenyon Martin and Lamar Odom the last two seasons? And was it even worth the risk? Let’s face it, if either Blake or DeAndre get injured in the playoffs, a Spencer Hawes-type ain’t taking the Clips to the promised land. The amateur psychologist in me likes the fact that they not only avoided bringing in another big man, but didn’t even pursue it. DeAndre was not one of the Clippers obsessively checking twitter on the team plane to see who would be taking his minutes. In fact, the Clippers moved bigs which further sent that signal from Doc to DeAndre — “You are the man.”
The Clippers are obviously going to add a big or two via buyout — Big Baby is already in red and blue warmups — but bringing them in with little fanfare and almost as an after thought may preserve Jordan’s confidence. It may make him feel, even subconsciously, like Doc wasn’t desperate to go out and get someone who can threaten his minutes.
And I, for one, think a confident DeAndre Jordan is more important to the Clippers’ playoff chances than any backup big they could have acquired.