The prospect of DeAndre Jordan joining the 2021-22 Los Angeles Lakers rapidly gained steam throughout Friday afternoon, culminating in reports that the veteran center, will, after all, become the latest over-30 former All-Star to take the veteran's minimum for a chance to contend alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Earlier in the week, reports indicated that the Lakers were eyeing Jordan should he be bought out by the Brooklyn Nets. Jordan was traded to the Detroit Pistons and promptly agreed to a buyout, clearing the way for the 32-year old to sign a one-year, $2.6 million with Los Angeles.
Jordan makes little sense for the Lakers within the current constitution of the roster. The Lakers could use another frontcourt piece — a big wing defender or stretch-4/5. But adding Jordan — a beloved locker room guy with a similar, yet more-washed game to Dwight Howard — as a third (or fourth, counting AD) center is dubious.
However, there's one major caveat that could fuel — and explain — the Lakers' interest in DJ: the TBD status of Marc Gasol.
The Big Spaniard has one year left on his deal. Despite initially saying he would be back with the Lakers after the Tokyo Olympics concluded, reports since then have speculated that Gasol may change his tune. Frankly, based on the way the Lakers messed with his role last season — booting him to the fringes of the rotation after promising Drummond the starting gig — can you really blame him?
The 36-year old could work his way onto another NBA team, retire, or take the same route as his older brother, Pau, and finish his professional basketball career in his native country.
The ship has sailed on this one, but the Lakers would be better off convincing Gasol to stick around and avoiding Jordan entirely.
Gasol is a better player than Jordan at this stage of their respective careers and a much better fit for the Lakers. He shot 40% from three in 2020-21 and can orchestrate ball movement and flow with his elite passing. His defensive impact has slipped as his foot speed has diminished, but he remains an ace positional defender. DeAndre Jordan, let's just say, is not.
More importantly, the Lakers were 28-14 in games Gasol started, including 22-6 before Davis got hurt on Feb. 14. For the season, lineups with Gasol, Davis, and James posted a 13.4 net rating. Following the ill-fated signing of Drummond, a fired-up Gasol became a sparkplug off-the-bench down the stretch.
More good Bron PF and Gasol C offense.
Step up screen from Caruso gets a switch, which LeBron can attack w/o Ayton in any position to help at the rim.
LA scored 18 points in the 12 Q4 possessions of Bron-Gasol time. 1.5 points/possession!! pic.twitter.com/VzNkB4JfLe
— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) May 31, 2021
Gasol's impact (via our LEBRON stat) was 3rd highest on LA pre-COVID.
Once he came back it dropped more than nearly any Laker over the next few weeks.
Then he got his bearings & rose more than any Laker over the final 3 weeks of the year.
It finished 4th behind Bron, AD, & AC.
— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) September 3, 2021
Jordan, on the other hand, is no longer a rotation-worthy player on a contender. He was a ceremonial starter for the Nets for much of last season — averaging 7.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 57 games — only to receive DNPs for the final 16 games, including the playoffs.
On this Lakers team, he will serve as third-stringer and a chemist — though it's possible the defensive-minded culture established by Frank Vogel could extract a bit more use from Jordan on that end of the floor. Maybe Davis has committed to playing center more often than we realize, perhaps even starting at the 5.
After a season devoid of lobs and rim protection, the Lakers — with a center rotation of AD, Dwight, and DeAndre — are clearly aiming to be more vertical inside. That's smart. Los Angeles did win the 2020 NBA championship with Howard and JaVale McGee on board.
The presence of Jordan likely signals the end of Gasol's Lakers tenure, meaning only three players (LeBron, AD, and Talen Horton-Tucker) will return from the 2020-21 squad.
With or without Gasol, it's hard to imagine Jordan moving the needle in any significant way. Hopefully, for the Lakers' sake, DJ will be rejuvenated by a return to Staples Center.