Grade the deal: Mavs dodge disaster, lure DeAndre Jordan away from Clips
[Editor's note: Jordan reneged on his commitment to sign with the Mavericks and re-signed with the Clippers early Thursday morning.]
The 2015 NBA offseason has its first true standings-shaking move.
DeAndre Jordan has agreed to a four-year, $80 million maximum contract with the Mavericks, according to Yahoo Sports and ESPN.com. The ultra-athletic, 6'11" center will return to his home state of Texas and spurn the Clippers, where he has spent the entirety of his seven-year career.
Ranked No. 9 on SI.com's "Top 25 Free Agents of 2015" list, Jordan is the top talent to change teams so far during free agency. His departure simultaneously leaves the Clippers in a world of hurt and breathes new life into a Mavericks organization that briefly seemed on the precipice of disintegration.
Jordan, 26, averaged 11.5 points, a league-leading 15 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game last season, serving as the key third piece behind All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. In many ways, Jordan is an ideal modern NBA center: he is an excellent finisher in the basket area, he doesn't need the ball to be successful, he pounds the glass on both ends, and he is an impact-making backline defender. Jordan, a 2015 All-NBA and All-Defensive selection last season, is perhaps the most durable center in the league: he hasn't missed a game in four-plus seasons.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban should be overjoyed by this acquisition. Jordan was arguably the second-best attainable talent on this summer's market, aside from LaMarcus Aldridge, and he makes for a better fit than the Blazers forward in Dallas. Like Tyson Chandler before him, Jordan will be asked to cover up Dirk Nowitzki's defensive mistakes while feasting on alley-oops created by a spread approach. Upgrading from Chandler to Jordan at center saves Dallas six years in age, and it removes any lingering injury concerns. Rather than a trusted, familiar hand who is headed for decline fairly soon, the Mavericks now have a legit All-Star candidate who is entering his prime and has enjoyed pristine health.
What's more, Jordan represents a foundational building block as Dallas eventually shifts into a post-Nowitzki reality. The nature of his game makes him a strong fit on virtually any roster, and the Mavericks front office will enjoy a lot of leeway as they pursue free agents down the road. It really doesn't matter: High-usage wings, ball-dominant guards, big-time power forwards, spread shooters ... Jordan has played, and succeeded, alongside all of them. Dallas surely sold him on his ability to take an increased role on offense.
This is a truly impressive save for Cuban and company following the departures of Chandler (to Phoenix), Monta Ellis (to Indiana), Al-Farouq Aminu (to Portland), and the expected departure of Rajon Rondo. The Mavericks' roster was looking bleak, and they faced the strong possibility of a major step back in the standings despite reaching an agreement with Wesley Matthews, who is coming off an Achilles injury. Now, Jordan's arrival should help Dallas maintain an elite offense under coach Rick Carlisle and it should help the Mavericks hover around average on defense, pending the team's next moves.
For the Clippers, this is an unmitigated disaster. Full stop. Then another full stop. Let's take a quiet moment to pour some liquor out for "Lob City." As noted repeatedly this summer, L.A. absolutely needed to keep Jordan. The contention window for the Paul/Griffin is open right now. The team's cap situation is such that it has no direct method for signing a comparable replacement. Spencer Hawes, the most obvious internal candidate to step into Jordan's minutes, was traded to Charlotte last month. Coach/president Doc Rivers has no other readily available options to play big minutes five on his roster, and his spending power is severely limited. Rivers' horrendous bench was barely passable with three star-type players, and it will be subject to even further scrutiny without Jordan next season.
"We don't want DeAndre to leave," Griffin told SI.com earlier this week, and now he and the rest of the organization are suddenly stuck contemplating life without a player who might have felt like his skills were taken for granted. After being stuck in a classic third fiddle situation behind Paul and Griffin, Jordan steps up as Dallas's No. 2 guy immediately and maybe even becomes the face of the franchise when Nowitzki retires.
Although Griffin and Jordan are close friends, even vacationing together during the off-season—and the center spoke highly of Rivers as a coach and mentor—Jordan's relationship with Paul will surely be the cause of much speculation over the next few weeks. Paul famously screamed at Jordan to shoot during a March game against the Blazers, and the point guard/center dynamic was reportedly a talking point during the Clippers' recruitment of Jordan.
Regardless of how deep you want to dive into the speculation, something was clearly rotten in Clipperland for Jordan to leave the only franchise he has known to: 1) take less money over fewer years than the Clippers could offer him while, 2) joining a Mavericks roster that simply can't match L.A.'s top-end talent, and which, 3) has its work cut out to win 56+ games next season, like the Clippers did in each of the last three seasons.
The Clippers held the advantage when it came to financial considerations, winning now, familiarity, and the strength of its core, and yet Jordan still got away. Rivers and company are now at the front of the line when it comes to this summer's losers, as they allowed such a marquee departure to happen in the middle of their contention window without a strong "Plan B" in place. Blowing a 3-1 lead and a shot at the conference finals hurts a lot, but this hurts even worse.