The departure of free-agent center DeAndre Jordan to the Mavericks would deal a potentially fatal blow to the Clippers' 2016 title hopes. Doc Rivers and company have decided not to go quietly into the night.
Despite Jordan reaching a verbal agreement with the Mavericks last Friday on a four-year, $80 million contract, the Clippers are attempting to change his mind, according to multiple reports Wednesday. ESPN.com reports that Rivers plans to meet with Jordan on Wednesday in Houston to take one final swing, while the Orange County Register reports that Clippers stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin will also be in attendance. Yahoo! Sports reports that Jordan "started having second thoughts" about leaving L.A. earlier this week, fueling the Clippers' pursuit.
Here's a quick rundown of five key questions surrounding this unusual turn of events.
1. Didn't Jordan already sign with the Mavericks?
Technically, no. The NBA is in the midst of its annual moratorium period, which began on July 1 and ends July 9. During that time period, teams and players can reach verbal agreements on contracts but they can't officially sign them. In almost every case, those verbal agreements are quickly made public, and it's extremely rare for either party to renege.
This is an excellent case study for why adhering to verbal agreements is so important. The NBA free agency period is often compared to falling dominoes: the biggest stars make their decisions and everything else follows from there. For context's sake, Jordan ranked No. 9 on SI.com's "Top 25 Free Agents of 2015" list, and he was the second-biggest name to agree to switch teams after LaMarcus Aldridge. Jordan's decision to pick the Mavericks likely influenced Dallas's interest in signing free agent guard Wesley Matthews to a lucrative contract, and it also indirectly influenced other signings, such as New York's agreement with free agent center Robin Lopez. If Jordan changes his mind, those other dominoes can't be put back into place.
2. Why didn't the Clippers just take their loss and move on?
In a word: desperation. As former NBA executive Bobby Marks noted on Twitter, pursuing a free agent after he's committed to another team is a "big violation" of the NBA's unwritten rules. This is, without a doubt, the type of move that can leave a lasting mark on an organization and a general manager.
Sadly, Rivers might feel like he has no better alternative than to put his credibility at risk. The Clippers traded Spencer Hawes, last year's back-up center, to the Hornets back in June. There are no other truly able-bodied centers on L.A.'s roster, and Rivers' cap situation is such that he can't add an impact player to help replace Jordan. Clippers guard J.J. Redick noted the importance of retaining Jordan in a recent interview, giving the Clippers an "F" grade for their off-season. That mark isn't harsh in the slightest: L.A. is the only legit title contender to have fallen out of the championship conversation this summer. Flipping Jordan would restore order and put them right back in the hunt.
3. What happens if the Clippers succeed?
The restoration of L.A.'s "Big 3" would certainly make the West more interesting. Despite blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Rockets in the second round, the Clippers were one of the league's best teams last season, posting the NBA's No. 1 offense and second-best point differential.
As it stands, the Warriors and Spurs make up the West's top tier. Keeping Jordan might not put the Clippers into that group, but it would at least nudge them into the second tier alongside the Thunder, Grizzlies and Rockets. If Jordan holds to his decision and picks the Mavericks, the Clippers drop closer to the playoff bubble, competing with the likes of the Pelicans, Mavericks, Suns and Jazz for one of the last three seeds.
There are other potential repercussions. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, never one to bite his tongue, will absolutely go berserk, and rightfully so. Remember, Cuban is already on record saying he planned to "take a step back" in 2016 if he missed out on Jordan, and inking Matthews to a long-term, big-money deal while he is recovering from a torn Achilles doesn't really make sense in a tank-like environment.
And, really, losing Jordan would potentially cripple the Mavericks for years to come. Dallas built its offseason plan around snaring the shot-blocking, alley-oop finishing center and turning him into a cornerstone for the post-Dirk Nowitzki era. While courting Jordan, the Mavericks lost their own starting center, Tyson Chandler, to the Suns and they watched as the rest of this summer's center market (Marc Gasol, Brook Lopez, Greg Monroe, Robin Lopez, Brandan Wright, Kosta Koufos) went elsewhere. If Jordan returns to L.A., Dallas would likely slip from the West's third tier back into the lottery as it also lost Monta Ellis and Al-Farouq Aminu in free agency.
4. Has this happened before?
Yes, but not very often. The most oft-cited example of a free-agency boomerang is Carlos Boozer, who allegedly went back on a handshake deal with the Cavaliers to bolt for the Jazz in 2004. Elton Brand had apparently reached an agreement to re-sign with the Clippers before ultimately leaving for the Sixers in 2008. Hedo Turkogludrew the ire of Blazers management and fans when he allegedly broke an agreement with Portland to sign with Toronto in 2009. Such sharp turns aren't limited only to free agency, as the Clippers know all too well. Back in 2011, the Clippers acquired Paul in a trade with the Hornets, but only after a trade that would have sent the All-Star point guard to the Lakers unexpectedly fell through, enraging Lakers officials.
5. What should Jordan do?
Jordan should honor his agreement and sign with the Mavericks.
Only five members of SI.com's top 25 free agents agreed to change teams this summer: Aldridge, Jordan, Monroe, Chandler and DeMarre Carroll. From that group, Jordan's decision was by far the most questionable. He left a perennial contender for a team in transition. He left tens of millions of dollars on the table. He left two All-Star teammates in their prime and a coach who helped mold him and grow his game.
Taken together, that's a lot to give up. Aldridge and Monroe both moved to better basketball situations. Carroll got more money and a more prominent role. Chandler arguably found a better basketball situation and he secured a long-term deal at great money for his age. None of those guys gave up as much as Jordan did.
But Jordan had his reasons. He was reportedly tired of being the third wheel. There was reportedly tension with Paul in particular. He wanted to blossom into becoming the face of a franchise. He wanted a larger offensive role. He wanted to go home to Texas.
Those were his reasons and no one forced him to make his decision. He should trust his decision-making and be a man of his word. The time for second thoughts was before the agreement became public.