First came the report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski: DeAndre Jordan would not exercise his $24.1 million player option for next season. Instead, he’d enter the market as a free agent and the Dallas Mavericks, a team he once spurned in the summer of 2015, were primed to be his top suitor.
Then, this tweet from the Clippers’ Twitter account all but sealed his fate:
— LA Clippers (@LAClippers) June 30, 2018
Throughout the unfolding saga, Marc Stein of the New York Times covered the DeAndre Jordan beat like nobody else. It was only fitting then, that he smashed open the Jordan pinata shortly after free-agency hoopla began:
DeAndre Jordan and the Dallas Mavericks have verbally agreed on a one-year deal approaching the $24.1 million option with the Clippers for next season that Jordan relinquished Friday, according to league sources
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) July 1, 2018
Three years later, Jordan will finally don the Dallas white and blue — assuming nobody wedges a chair under the doorknob in his LA home. With the deal, both sides emerge as victors.
Jordan migrates to a franchise who’s long coveted his services, leaving one behind where his value consistently exceeded the praise bestowed upon him. For years, he was the third piece of the Clippers’ Big 3, overshadowed by Chris Paul’s alpha persona and Blake Griffin’s flashy skill set. Then, when Lob City was no more, he was at the core of trade rumors for months on end.
Now a Maverick, Jordan, whose defense took a sizable step back last season, might be reinvigorated with a squad who’s appreciated his game from afar for years. Set to be 31 by the start of the 2019-20 season, Jordan could also find new energy as he potentially plays his way into the final lengthy, lucrative contract of his career.
Dallas will embrace him as its star center, cognizant of the vital role he’ll serve both on and off the court. Along with Dirk Nowitzki — whose essence is seemingly ingrained into American Airlines Center — Jordan will mentor the young pups, Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr.
From the Mavericks’ perspective, inking Jordan to a one-year deal doesn’t hamstring the franchise financially, an important note considering they’re years away from potentially fielding a contender, despite the talents of Doncic and Smith. Jordan will elevate the team’s ceiling next season, but he isn’t a franchise-altering megastar who instantly vaults the club into a playoff lock and is worth selling the farm for.
By avoiding a long-term contract with Jordan, the Mavericks maintain flexibility and the opportunity to be a major player next summer, perhaps keeping a watchful eye on superstar swingman Jimmy Butler — a native of Tomball, Texas, which is nestled just three hours south of Dallas — or another star (Klay Thompson, anyone?). Given Butler’s reported frustration with the “nonchalant attitude” of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, it’s entirely plausible and perhaps even likely he longs for greener pastures, decides not to exercise his $19.8 million player option for the 2019-20 season and becomes a free agent next summer.
If and when Butler hits the market, most of the league will be craving his services. But at the very least, the Mavericks will have the requisite cap space (with a move here or there), hometown allure, the brilliant Rick Carlisle and two dynamos in the backcourt — whose talents will be magnified alongside Jordan — to entice the four-time All-Star.
And while Jordan’s arrival isn’t a seismic jolt out West, it does lessen the offensive burden for Doncic and Smith, providing the duo a springy rim-runner who excelled in pick and rolls with Chris Paul at the helm.
Doncic doesn’t boast the same aptitude as a facilitator, but he’s craftiest and most skilled passer from this year’s draft class. He consistently yielded gaudy Synergy numbers as the ball handler in pick and rolls during his EuroLeague tenure, slinging the ball with some serious gusto:
The buzzword among NBA circles is gravity, often referring to the defensive attention Stephen Curry or other marksmen demand as lethal shooters. But as a rim-runner, Jordan also attracts a magnetic pull, which will lure defenders away from Doncic and allow him to feast in one-on-one scenarios. Or, if the defensive coverage isn’t pristine, Doncic is going to cast lobs into the sky and let Jordan inhale them. And if those mishaps result in help-side rotations to lock down Jordan, Doncic is going to toast defenses with some more passing zeal, given his innate patience out of the pick and roll.
The acquisition of Jordan will also allow Nowitzki to play more minutes at the 4-spot, the genesis of his most dominant years. It’s easier to mask Nowitzki’s near-nonexistent footspeed by anchoring him at center, but Dallas isn’t looking for defensive value from its all-time great at this point. Slotting Dirk at power forward enables him to act as a floor-spacing spot-up shooter when Doncic and Jordan operate pick and rolls, presenting the defense with yet another challenge to overcome.
A Doncic-Wes Matthews-Harrison Barnes-Nowitzki-Jordan lineup has three confident catch-and-shoot pieces, an elite rim-runner and a lead guard who can create off the dribble or shred defenses with his passing. Reports also indicated the ever-savvy Carlisle intends to play his 6-foot-8 prized Slovenian at power forward occasionally, only further expanding the creative options lineup-wise.
Doing so presents Smith with more time as a floor general while he continues to mature as a facilitator and point guard. Doncic has proven to thrive without the rock in his hands and sending him through a maze of off-ball screens, primarily set by Jordan, will empower the Smith-Doncic-Jordan triumvirate to thrive in harmony together.
Doncic was the most NBA-ready prospect this year and his arrival signals Dallas is unlikely to secure a top-five pick in next year’s draft, prompting it to ship its pick to Atlanta, per the terms of the agreement in the Doncic-Trae Young swap. As a result, there’s little incentive to tank, adding more appeal to the Jordan signing.
DeAndre Jordan won’t ever be an All-Star again and he isn’t one of the premier frontcourt talents the NBA has to offer. But his fit in Dallas is logical. The Mavericks landed their white whale who projects to seamlessly mesh with their newly minted franchise centerpiece along with the other talent already in place. While rumors swirled that they might let Jordan plant his flag in town long term, a one-year deal was the prudent decision.
By adding the best player in the draft, Dallas’ timeline was accelerated, but it wasn’t scrapped. Jordan will be a valuable piece for the Mavericks next season, rumbling to the rim on pick and rolls, providing a temporary answer in the middle and giving Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. a luxury most lottery talents don’t have: a star-caliber big man to lean on. That’s a rare commodity to drop into any young guard’s lap and when there isn’t a long-term commitment attached to spoil the rebuild, it makes DeAndre Jordan the Maverick an even better asset than most theorized.