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The Cap Reality of DeAndre Jordan's Free Agency

Forget about whether or not Jordan meets arbitrary qualifications of what a "max player" should be--the Clippers need to pay whatever the price is to keep him this summer.

"If you were about to get nine figures, you'd be smiling too,"
"If you were about to get nine figures, you'd be smiling too,"
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

DeAndre Jordan will get a max contract offer from the Clippers. It will probably be one of the first things to leak on July 1st--"DeAndre Jordan has signed a 5 year/$110 million contract to stay with the Los Angeles Clippers". Of course, it's not guaranteed. Jordan is certain to solicit some pretty big offers--he's one of the best centers in the league, he's young, and a lot of callers will come after him with dollars to spend. However, money talks, and the Clippers can offer Jordan higher raises and longer contract security, making it a tough call to walk away.

Without a doubt, this will be the biggest news of the summer for LA, which is both reassuring and terrifying. We know that there is not room for major shakeup this summer for the Clippers, making anxiety levels a little lower, but we also know that there's not a lot of room for improvement either. As outlined in our "Offseason Primer" post, there's not a lot of room for the Clippers to get better this summer.

Essentially all Doc Rivers and his front office staff will have to work with, outside of trades and retaining current Clippers, is the one taxpayer mid-level exception worth about $3.3 million. Other than that, the Clippers don't have much room for asset creation--making retaining their current assets that much more important. Jordan is clearly the most important Clipper in play this off-season: if we didn't know this before, we know now that he's received All-NBA third team and All-Defense first team honors, a remarkable feat for a former second round pick.

If the Clippers "let Jordan walk" (which won't happen), or Jordan decides that he would like to play for a different team (it won't happen, but it's at least possible), LA will be in a bind. The Clippers would still be well over the cap, meaning that they would not get to use that eight-figure salary on a replacement. Essentially, the choice isn't DeAndre Jordan vs Brook Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, or other alternative high-salary big men on the market. The choice is DeAndre Jordan or squat. Plenty of people don't understand this aspect of the Clippers' cap situation: they're over the cap with or without DJ.

Without DeAndre Jordan back, the (over)reactionary portion of the fan base and media's take on the Clippers' outlook would be validated, as they'd be a sure candidate for regression, struggling for at least one year until the salary cap booms and room becomes available. Fortunately, that seems unlikely. DeAndre is a long-time Clipper, and he's loved and treated well within the organization, especially since Doc Rivers came here and prepared the perfect environment to turn him into the star he is today. Blake Griffin is a close friend, and despite Paul's competitive nature there's no real reason to believe that there's anything but a close relationship there. In fact, Matt Barnes is also very gluey--he's been a strong force in bringing the entire squad very close together.

Jordan will sign his contract with LAC in July, and it will be the best move for him and the best move for the team. The only question is what contract he'll sign. He's surely getting the maximum salary (whether he deserves it or not — and he does — is a matter of opinion, but the future maximum offer is a fact), but the interesting move for DJ, and other free agents this off-season, will be duration. With the cap rocketing up in future years, players may look for short-term deals to carry them over until teams will have more cap room. This could especially affect maximum contracts, which are tied in as a percentage of the salary cap. For Jordan and other max players, a two year deal could give them 150% of the salary in future years that they would otherwise get in a 5-year deal signed today. On the other hand, the long-term security of a five-year contract is undeniably nice, and even though more is always better, $110 million isn't something to shake your head at.

There's two things to take away from this situation:
1. The NBA off-season is filled with crazy, unexpected, unpredictable chaos. DeAndre Jordan's situation will not be a part of that chaos.
2. Should the unthinkable happen, there is no replacing DeAndre Jordan. He will either be back on a max contract, or the Clippers will be down an All-NBA player with no cap space to replace him.