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Six Days in July: An Alternative History

The premise is this: What would have happened if DeAndre Jordan actually did leave the Clippers last summer and joined the Dallas Mavericks? Where would the Clippers be? It seems a grim concept, but maybe it's not so bad.

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There's this book that's being made into an Amazon TV show. It's called The Man in the High Tower, and it was written by the crazy sci-fi author Philip K. Dick, of Blade Runner and Minority Report fame. It's about an alternate history where the Nazis were successful in their effort to defeat the Allied powers and take over the world. In it, I guess, Adolf Hitler becomes Emperor of the World, which is the title he greatly desired. (Or maybe that was Napoleon Bonaparte. I get my megalomaniacs confused). Sure, it all sounds a little far-fetched; the western hemisphere wasn't really in much danger from the Axis powers. But jolly old England surely was. Hitler pretty much owned all of Europe, and had the U.S. not stepped in, I think our British friends were very worried they'd soon be wearing lederhosen and singing songs about Alpine flowers. British pluck and all that inspired speechmaking by Winston Churchill were only going to carry you so far.

Anyway, I'm not trying to draw analogies between megalomania and the Clippers, or even deliver a history lesson to underdeveloped Clipper fans. What I'm interested in is the concept of an "alternative history." The premise is this: What would have happened if DeAndre Jordan actually did leave the Clippers last summer and joined the Dallas Mavericks? Where would the Clippers be? It seems a grim concept, but maybe it's not really so bad.

Let's review. It's last July, just five months ago, the weekend of July 4th. You remember it don't you? I do too. That Friday (or maybe it was a Thursday), you were off doing whatever you were doing—probably buying, selling, or manufacturing illicit fireworks—when you heard the news. The Clippers' tall, athletic center, presumably the third most important member of the team, a pleasant young man by the name of Hyland DeAndre Jordan, sneaks out of the Compound Clipper, scales multiple barricades of electric razor wire, and joins a party of enemy raiders. This group is led by the gaseous and arrogant millionaire Mark Cuban, a frat boy and former disco-dance instructor (true).

"Cubes", as his friends call him, organized this raid on the Clipper camp with the help of his friend Dan Fegan, a shadowy fellow who was posing as young Jordan's agent and adviser while secretly staffing Cuban's basketball team with good players (Google "Parsons, Chandler" for more info).

A few days later, DeAndre realized that he'd been duped and made a few phone calls. Not long thereafter a handful of Clipper operatives secretly flew into Houston, where Jordan was being held in a structure that was purportedly his offseason "home" (cough, cough, chortle, chortle). The ops invaded the house, went to the mattresses, ordered chicken, unbrainwashed Jordan, and took him back into the Clipper fold. It's a story we now know well.But the part that we've forgotten is the five or six days that DeAndre Jordan was actually a Dallas Maverick. A lot of stuff happened in those five (or six) days:

- First, Tyson Chandler, who played center for the Dallas Mavericks the year before, signed with the Phoenix Suns (or maybe it was the Nuggets, I get confused). The Mavs spurned Chandler because they were hot for the younger, springier, sexier Jordan.

- While the Suns (or Nugs) were signing Chandler, the Clips were sleeping. They were surprised by Jordan's defection and didn't even make an effort to force the Mavs into a sign-and-trade deal. They made only a cursory effort to re-sign Jordan. (Why on earth, thought the Clippers, would Jordan want to leave the pleasures of Southern California and the happy Clipper family?) Jordan's teammates were not even present at the recruiting meeting. By the time the Clips woke up, not only was DeAndre gone with the wind but so was Chandler, a reasonable alternative.

- Many Clipper fans—OK, me—faced with the loss of Jordan, were lusting after one of—any one of—the Milwaukee Bucks' centers. They had too many: John Henson, Larry Sanders, Miles Plumlee, and, perhaps most likely, the older but reasonably decent Zaza Pachulia.

- The Clipper brain trust did act quickly enough to sign erstwhile Knick center Cole Aldrich, a big white guy who might or might not be OK. (Maybe you've noticed that Aldrich does a funny thing on the bench: He wraps this plastic thing around his ear. I thought it was an earphone. Like he's listening to music or a self-help audio book. Or maybe he wears a hearing aid. But it turns out it's not either of those things—it's his mouthpiece. He stores it over his ear. Not only doesn't seem particularly sanitary, it's curious why he doesn't just leave the thing in his locker—there doesn't seem much danger of dental damage waving towels from the end of the bench.) Anyway, I feel sorry for Aldrich. He came to the Clips looking for minutes on a good team who'd just lost their big-time center, and instead he's picking splinters out of his ass for a team that has no interest in him. He might as well be on effing Mars.

- Of course by the Fourth of July the Clips had already signed Paul Pierce and traded for Lance Stephenson. But would they have traded Spencer Hawes for Stephenson if they knew the Axis powers were hiding in the goddamn bushes? Probably, but it would have had to give the front office some pause.

- Of course there were other potential deals that might have happened. The Cavs had that weird option on Brendan Haywood who they didn't want but seemed like he might have been useful to the Clips. (As it turns out Haywood was apparently not useful to anyone. His contract got traded to Portland, who immediately dumped him.)

- Maybe the Clips could have swung a deal for a different secondary guy. Someone like Ian Mahinmi. He was just a roster guy on the Indiana Pacers, who, this off-season, lost their own steady (but slow) starting center, Roy Hibbert, now playing in Staples for the "LA Kobes" (I think that's their name). Anyway, Mahinmi is now starting for the Pacers, who look good and spanked the Clips the other night on the Clip's home court. Mahinmi went 14/7 against Jordan, and he's got a PER this year of 15.7. No really. I'm not kidding.

- I am sure there were other big man possibilities but I can't remember. One of the sad truths about old age is how human brain cells atrophy and go all rigid. I can remember my childhood phone number, but only the last four digits (4423). It doesn't matter because there isn't anyone at that number I know anymore. Most of that bunch are no longer on this planet, alternate history or not.

The point of all this is, Where would the Clippers be if they had not signed DeAndre Jordan to a maximum contract this summer? They would definitely have Cole Aldrich. It seems possible they'd have figured a way to bring in Zaza Pachulia, and they'd probably still have signed Josh Smith. I think they'd probably have Lance Stephenson. And I don't think the time-shift in Houston/LA/Dallas would have rippled all the way to Sacramento, so Luc Mbah Moute was still probably going to get back-stabbed by the Kings and fall to the Clips in training camp. Likewise, Wesley Johnson was so busy digging that tunnel between locker rooms at Staples that he never even heard Jordan was gone. So, really, other than a single name-change at center, the Clipper roster probably would likely be the same as it is today. More importantly, what would be the result?

Zaza's having a pretty decent season for the (so far) surprising Mavs, averaging  11 and 10 in 29 minutes. Let's assume Cole Aldrich with or without that hearing aid would have at least a season like last season's 5.5/5.5 (in 16), and Josh Smith would be getting more minutes (at the four and five), putting up something like last year's 12 and 6 in 25.

For the Clips this year, Jordan is averaging 10.5 and 13 in 32 (uncomfortably close to Pachulia's numbers), Smith spends most of the time backing him up with Blake Griffin picking up minutes here and there.

But there are two things the Clips would clearly miss from Jordan: He's a good (not great) defender and he really fills the paint. Zaza and Aldrich are not Jordan defensively, but they are large. Smith is a pretty good center when other teams go small. Secondly, Jordan pulls down a shitload of rebounds. The Clippers would definitely miss him there. But there are some negatives that come with Jordan as well: Other than his explosive dunks, and the occasional beans he scrapes up at the foul line, he has no offensive game. The dunks are cool of course but that's about it.

Finally, there is the issue of Jordan's free throws. He's bad at it. Historically bad. This year he is averaging 34 percent. And other teams have been determined to exploit that reality. We've all argued to the point of exhaustion over whether this tactic is a wise move. But take it from me, it isn't: If Jordan shoots 45 percent, it's advantage-Clippers, but anything less and it's disadvantage-Ballmer's Boys. So thus far, it seems a pretty smart move for opposing coaches. It also creates awful, unwatchable basketball, not that guys like Terry Stotts care about that. Stotts, who looks like one of my kid's former goldfish, has a not-very-good team with not-enough-weapons, and he really doesn't care about how ugly it gets.

Of course, if the Clips didn't have Jordan they would still have Blake (Jesus) Griffin and the point-god Chris Paul. Those two guys are the best guys on a good team. Period. With or without Jordan, the Clippers wouldn't have had much money to play with last summer, so there weren't miracles about to drop out of the sky. But they would have a boatload of cap room this off-season. With a little pruning and maneuvering they might even have landed in the Kevin Durant sweepstakes next summer. That's a nice territory to be in, by the way.

But would the Clips be a top four western team without DJ this season? I might be an optimist, but I think, with some sort of a Pachulia/Smith/Griffin/Aldrich rotation they'd actually be OK. Top four? Yeah, by the end of the regular season, maybe top four.

Of course the parallel question is how good are the Clippers with DeAndre? And it would be easy to mention their current record and get all crazy. But that'd be a cheap conclusion. There's a lot of new pieces, (and in alternate Clipperland, there would be at least one more) and some of those pieces came in with some serious fit issues. Real square-hole, round-peg stuff. But still, by the end of the season I expect them to be top four in the West.

So, let's review reality: DeAndre Jordan is playing for the Clippers, Hitler lost the war and drank poison, the Clippers have new uniforms, sometimes they're black for some reason, along with a brand new logo designed in 1998 and obviously purchased at K Mart.  I still remember the phone number 4423 but it serves absolutely no purpose. The Clippers need a backup point guard, better shooting, some clarity from their coaching staff, and we're still not happy with our small forward situation.  I think the alternate history version of the Clips would basically be in about the same place. Only maybe we'd also be talking about next year's free agent market. Would that be better or would that be worse?  Alternative histories are a very tricky game.