THE WEAKEST LINK of the NBA off-season turned out to be a 6'11" dunking machine who credits his "Wolverine-like bone structure" for his impeccable health. Height and durability—as well as prolific rebounding and shot blocking—will generate interest during the free-agency period, but it takes good judgment and integrity to complete a deal. Enter DeAndre Jordan, whose decision to renege on a verbal agreement with the Mavericks called into question the workability of the league's free agency moratorium.
This is an article from the July 20, 2015 issue
Jordan eventually came to the right conclusion by re-signing with the Clippers, taking a four-year, $88 million max contract. It should have been an easy call. In L.A., Jordan enjoys sunshine, a pair of All-Star teammates in point guard Chris Paul and power forward Blake Griffin, an endlessly supportive coach in Doc Rivers and a chance to compete for a title every year.
How Jordan, 26, reached his decision was the problem. On July 3, reports surfaced that he and Dallas had come to a handshake agreement, the only allowable deal during the eight-day moratorium that the league needs to close its books from the previous year and calculate the new salary cap. After that, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban reached a four-year deal with shooting guard Wesley Matthews, leading other free agents linked to Dallas to move on. By July 6, Jordan was expressing second thoughts to intermediaries, news that got back to Rivers and effectively reopened the courtship. Two days later Jordan was merrily hosting a Clippers contingent at his Houston home, where Griffin jokingly tweeted a photo of a chair barricading Jordan's front door, as if to bar the Mavs. At no point did he directly inform Cuban of his about-face. At no point did he announce his change of heart.
Dozens of free agents reached agreements with teams before Jordan officially signed with the Clippers on July 9. Jilted, Dallas cobbled together alternate plans, but its entire summer was shot by Jordan's waffling. Cuban had no recourse: Jordan's verbal agreement on a four-year, $80 million contract was nonbinding, and he broke no NBA rules by changing his mind.
Thankfully, Jordan's reversal didn't set off a chain reaction, as other free agents and teams held fast to their deals. Mavericks forward and chief recruiter Chandler Parsons called Jordan's conduct "unprofessional," and Cuban rejected a public apology from Jordan, which finally came via Twitter on July 10. To make matters worse for Cuban, the NBA fined him $25,000 for discussing his agreement with Jordan during the moratorium, which is against league rules.
There's simply no excusing Jordan's behavior. He and his agent, Dan Fegan, had years to prepare for his free agency and months to weigh his options. His reasons for choosing Dallas—returning to his home state, taking on a larger offensive role, becoming the face of a franchise—were his alone. The damage to Dallas could have been significantly reduced if he'd taken a more deliberative approach.
In the aftermath, some called on the NBA to shorten its moratorium. Cuban disagreed, arguing that the fiasco wasn't a product of the system, and he's right. The NBA's board of governors can tighten its summer timeline, but it will never be able to legislate away rash decision-making and spineless behavior.
Hopefully the affair and the outrage it provoked will serve as a learning experience. After all, Jordan's new contract lets him become a free agent again in 2018. How many teams will he choose then?
Faces in the Crowd