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We need to talk about DeAndre: An exchange between bloggers

Rebecca Lawson of Mavs Moneyball and I exchanged a series of emails in the wake of the DeAndre Jordan saga touching on everything from whether DeAndre is a franchise player to the ethics of all involved.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It's time for a civil discussion about the DeAndre Jordan situation between fans of the two impacted franchises, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Dallas Mavericks. Mavericks fans are pissed off -- at DJ, at Doc Rivers, even a little bit at me, even though I'm super sweet and also good looking and humble. Clippers fans are happy not to have lost Jordan, while recognizing that it wasn't his finest moment, but also question other things that happened in the ordeal.

I reached out to Rebecca Lawson, one of the Managing Editors at Mavs Moneyball, SBNation's Mavericks blog. Rebecca has SoCal ties and we met at a Clippers game a couple years back and remain on friendly terms, despite DeAndrageddon. We conducted the following email exchange over the last few days to get some of our questions answered from the other side's perspective.

This post is going up simultaneously on both sites. If you have further, CIVIL questions for Becca, she has promised to stop by throughout the next couple of days to try to answer them. Off topic and rude comments will be removed and will generate warnings. I've agreed to spend some time on MMB answering questions there, and I expect them to treat me with respect, but regardless of that, the citizens of Clips Nation had sure as hell better treat Rebecca (and Mavs fans in general) with respect or you'll answer to your fearless leader.

As I point out in the opening, no one understands how Mavs fans feel better than Clippers fans who lived through the Elton Brand debacle. Remember that feeling and try to put yourselves in the shoes of Mavs fans.


From: Steve Perrin
To: Rebecca Lawson

Hey Becks --

Remember that time you were in L.A. and we sat in press row together and watched the Clippers and Mavs battle? Remember how the Clippers were comfortably ahead, and then they got complacent and the Mavs executed a brilliant turnaround to suddenly build a seemingly insurmountable advantage? And then remember how at the last moment the Clippers swooped in for the come-from-behind victory? Well, it happened again.

I'm not here to gloat. I'm here to talk, and maybe even to commiserate a bit. L'affaire DeAndre was bizarre to say the least. You and your readers may not want to hear it, but if anyone can relate to what your are feeling, it's Clippers fans, who went through something very similar seven years ago with Elton Brand.

And if it's any consolation, it's worth noting that most of the time that a player flip-flops like this, the team that "wins" actually winds up losing. Toronto couldn't wait to get out of the Hedo Turkoglu contract after he backed out on his deal with Portland. The aforementioned Brand signing was disastrous for the Sixers, as Brand never fully recovered from his Achilles injury and suffered another serious injury in Philly before eventually being amnestied. Heck, the Mavs "lost" in their attempt to sign Deron Williams in 2012, but it's pretty obvious now that it was the Nets who lost that one.

I tweeted last week that I thought the Mavs could be better off not paying $20M to Jordan and you and others (rightly) shut me down on that.

We can't know. Maybe Dallas dodged a bullet, maybe not -- but none of that helps Mavs fans right now. The Clippers were lucky to not sign Brand to a five year deal and then they got really lucky in the lottery after a terrible season and wound up with Blake Griffin, so the seeds of the team's ascension were sown in that terrible summer of 2008 -- but I'm still pissed off at Brand, who will forever be known as FElton (no relation to Raymond) at ClipsNation. I'm saying, I get it. I really do.

But along this vein, let's get to my first question for you: do Mavs fans realize that Jordan is a really limited player? No one really bought the "MVP candidate" and "franchise player" and "20 and 20" stuff right? He's a freak of an athlete, a significant presence on defense, and a monster on the glass. But his range doesn't extend beyond dunks, and a team that features the offensive stylings of DeAndre Jordan is a bad team. I've watched him for seven seasons, and I've seen him make strides in many areas. But it's not like the Clippers don't give him very many post touches because Chris Paul is a poopy-head. It's because they want to have a good offense, not a bad offense.

From: Rebecca Lawson
To: Steve Perrin

Oh, god, you had to bring up "The Game". I will forever have that game burned in my memory. Fortunately you and I got a good friendship out of it, if I couldn't at least get out with a win for the Mavs.

So let's talk about the Mavericks and teambuilding philosophy. (Ugh.) The years since the 2011 run for the Mavericks have been....well, rough, in terms of trying to field a consistently playoff-viable team. The Mavericks traditionally are not good at building through the draft, and prefer to build through free agency and trades -- Deron Williams (lol), Dwight Howard, Tyson Chandler last year, etc. This kind of thing becomes particularly important when you consider that the biggest motivating factor in the Mavs' teambuilding philosophy since 2011 has been: stay as competitive as possible until Dirk retires, then rebuild.

But, when they managed to snag Chandler Parsons out of restricted free agency last offseason, the bridge to a life after Dirk seemed a little more clear, especially as the free agent market this offseason and next is/will be featuring a couple bigger fish, like DeAndre Jordan.

Honestly, my preference was to retain Tyson Chandler. But after the Parsons get and with Jordan available, the team saw a way to build around, then after, Dirk by getting younger AND maintaining competitiveness. And wasn't Doc Rivers himself the one pushing Jordan as DPOY last season? If Jordan's not an MVP candidate, the Clippers sure think highly enough of him to offer him a max contract, same as the Mavs did. To your point about whether fans/the team realize his limitations: the Mavs' offense would have (and still will) run through Parsons and Dirk. But even with Tyson Chandler working his ass off last season, the Mavericks were still a horrible rebounding team. Their offense would have been fine -- they NEEDED to get younger, and they needed to get even better on defense. Jordan was without question their best chance to do that. And even if, at the end of the day, he does have that same limited skill set, it's exactly the skill set the Mavs need, even if they can't get any more out of him.

Cuban did a lot of talking after DeAndre's initial decision, but I think what gets lost in some of that talking is that they were "selling" DeAndre on coming and learning under Rick Carlisle in a system that would be designed to maximize and feature what he does best. Carlisle is notoriously good at designing plays and using his roster based on individual skill sets, and I'm sure that they were betting he could take Jordan a step further than he's been before.

So: were some of Mark's comments hyperbole? Sure. But he'd had a few at a bar and was freak-out thrilled over his biggest free agent get since I don't even remember. Did the fans have unrealistic expectations, though? I don't think so. I think most of us were thrilled Jordan could bring youth in the form of a top player at his position with a skill set the Mavs badly need. He would have also been a key piece to building a team in the post-Dirk era. No serious observer of the team was thinking championship this year, and I'm not sure where that perception ever really came from.

Here's what I don't get: where does the perception come from that DeAndre "needs" Chris Paul to be good at what he does? The Mavericks' offense is based on the pick and roll, and they were at the top of the league in lobs and dunks with such illustrious names as Devin Harris and J.J. Barea at point guard last year. I thoroughly respect that CP3 is light years better than those guys, but why do people seem to think that he's the only guy who can facilitate DeAndre's skill set?

From: Steve Perrin
To: Rebecca Lawson

The "Chris Paul makes DeAndre what he is" narrative is no doubt overblown. (The whole "Lob City" thing always seemed a bit strange to me in fact. Chris Paul is better than any point guard in the NBA at many, many things -- throwing lob passes doesn't happen to be one of them. Baron Davis threw much more spectacular lobs to the likes of Griffin and Jordan.) The simple fact is that Paul certainly doesn't make him a better rebounder or defender, which are his world class attributes. Having said that, Jordan was in an almost perfect situation the last few seasons to maximize his skills and minimize his shortcomings, and when DJ was making his decision I think Raymond Felton was penciled in as a starter for the Mavs -- that's a pretty significant downgrade from Paul. Not just Paul but also Griffin are great playmakers, and the two of them got the ball to Jordan in his range, which is to say above the rim. It's tempting to look at his 71 percent shooting and say "Oh, he needs more touches." But he shoots 71 percent because he gets such a specific type of touch -- those he can finish. It's flattering to have Cuban and Parsons saying "We'll run the offense through you", but the Clippers had the highest rated offense in the league last season and it certainly wasn't because they ran things through Jordan. Honestly, Tyson is a more skilled offensive center, and I didn't see Carlisle calling a lot of plays for him.

Having said all of that, Jordan was certainly worth the maximum this season and I'm not questioning the desire to have him at all. (I think one could make an argument that he's worth more to the Clippers than he is to another team, but that's obviously a matter of opinion.) This is the best rebounder in the league two years running and an elite rim protector who can also shut down the pick and roll -- with the cap going through the roof next season, he's clearly worth the max now. But there's a big difference between "worth the current max" and "MVP candidate."

There are a couple of different max type players in the NBA right now it seems to me. There are the underpaid max guys like LeBron James and Kevin Durant who would make twice as much or more in a free market, and then there are the other guys, who get the money because of supply and demand, but may or may not really be worth it. Jordan and Parsons and Matthews all fall into that second category, I think you would agree. Had the Mavs landed Jordan, that would have been a lot of money tied up in second tier players -- I think the team would still have been looking for their superstar of the future, their new Dirk.

And speaking of Dirk, Nowitzki is obviously the most tragic character in this melodrama. Few people outside of Dallas are going to weep for Cuban, but Dirk deserves a better team for his final season(s). One unfortunate consequence of this whole situation is that it almost makes Kobe Byant's greedy approach look justified, and I hate that. Cuban clearly isn't tanking now that he's lost out on Jordan despite what he said, and if things break well, the Mavs could compete for a playoff spot. But I'm curious what you see happening if things don't break well. If Deron Williams is mediocre and Matthews and Parsons are slow to recover from injuries and the team gets off to a bad start -- would they trade Dirk to a contender? Would Dirk even want that, or is finishing his career in Dallas worth more than making one last run at a title?

From: Rebecca Lawson
To: Steve Perrin

Yeah, I think there's no question that the Mavericks changed their free agent strategy from "cap space and Dirk/Carlisle" to "cap space, Dirk, Carlisle, and role players designed to help that free agent be successful." And it almost worked! Parsons will be getting a bigger role next year (he's supposedly on track to be ready for training camp), and with the addition of Matthews and DWill, the Mavs definitely won't be tanking this year. (And Raymond Felton would NOT have been the starting point guard, let's get that out of the way pretty quickly.)

It would have been a lot of money tied up in non-superstars, but actual superstars are so hard to get, as the Mavs have certainly learned in recent years. So the alternative is taking a chance on second tier guys and hoping that either the sum of those parts is worth more than a LaMarcus Aldridge or Dwight Howard, or that one of those second tier guys is ready to take that next step. Teams like the Hawks, Wizards and Grizzlies have had some good success pursuing variations on that kind of teambuilding strategy. The Mavs were gambling that Parsons and Jordan could take that kind of step towards first tier with the right coach and structure around them.

As for Dirk, as you mentioned, I don't know how anyone can't feel for the guy. He is without a doubt one of the biggest class acts the NBA will ever see. He took that pay cut to get Parsons, to then get Matthews/Jordan...etc. This season is the last on his current contract -- there is a third year, but it's a player option. He's been very public about saying he will play as long as it's fun and he can be competitive. I don't know him personally, but I've spent enough time around him and the team to suspect that he would just decline his player option and retire if the Mavs aren't competitive. He has his ring, and not that he wouldn't want another, but I can't see it coming at the expense of Dallas and their fans. He's far too ingrained in Dallas, his young family is here, he's extremely close with the front office, etc. Kind of a tragic sendoff for a once in a generation player.

The fallout from DeAndreGate doesn't really end at Dirk's retirement for the Mavericks, though. If they aren't competitive this season, Dirk probably retires, Rick Carlisle probably moves on (he's brilliant, but not really the right coach for a rebuild), Parsons opts out and becomes a free agent, I could see Matthews getting traded -- I think this is really what Cuban was referencing when he mentioned tanking. All of this, because one player had a change of heart. It's a hell of a way to sting an organization and a fanbase who could have just politely asked Tyson Chandler to come back.

I really don't have a problem with Jordan returning to the Clippers, but I do have a problem with how the whole thing went down. That reversal caused Dallas to lose out on free agents or deals they could have done in the intervening five days that could have helped the team. And, I feel like ethically, picking up the phone and letting Cuban know as soon as possible that he was having second thoughts would have helped some of the fallout. I know Clips fans are excited it went their way, but what do you think about the ethics of these kinds of handshake decisions during the moratorium period? Do you think some changes can and should be made to the process to avoid this kind of thing stinging an organization so badly?

From: Steve Perrin
To: Rebecca Lawson

There's room to question the ethics of a whole slew of characters in this situation. And of course we don't know exactly who knew what when. But I think it's fair to question whether Doc Rivers owed a call to either Dan Fegan or Mark Cuban once he got back in the game. I don't think anyone can say that DJ has no right to change his mind or that the Clippers had no right to head to Houston when they knew DJ was back in play -- but how exactly those things happened? Yeah, lots of questions there.

The reporting from Ramona Shelburne and Tim McMahon seems to be the closest thing to a timeline we have right now, and if indeed Jordan kept Cuban and even his own agents in the dark from Friday until Tuesday, even while he was having significant doubts and had spoken to Doc, well, that ain't cool. If Doc was the one that placed the Monday phone call (which remains unclear at this point) -- even less cool.

There's nothing anyone can do about it of course. Something like this was always bound to happen in the moratorium period, which is kind of nuts if you think about it. But here's a guy who is regretting a decision that determines the next four years of his life -- and he hasn't signed anything yet! He shouldn't have verbally committed in the first place (and the Clippers should have realized that they could lose him in the and made a more convincing first pitch), but he did, and of course he's going to back out of it if it's wrong.

For the Clippers, their transformation into the villains of the NBA is now more or less complete. Everyone already hated Paul and Griffin, but it was tough to hate DJ and his goofy smile. Between his behavior here and the addition of Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson, this team will wear the black hat for years. They were already trying to embrace it, and now they'll have to.

There are plenty of questions surrounding the ethics on the Dallas side as well. The relationship between Fegan and Cuban raises lots of eyebrows -- but really, pretty much all agents are pure evil so singling out Fegan is probably disingenuous. I'd also say that if Parsons wants to brag about being an assistant GM, he's skirting an ethical line with regards to tampering if he starts his recruiting before July 1. I mean, obviously it happens, but don't brag about it.

It's clear at this point that initially Jordan became enamored of all the attention and bought into the sales pitch -- but the sales pitch was never really true, which presents its own set of problems. If Mark Cuban says "You'll average 20 points and 20 rebounds with us. Let's shake on it!" maybe an impressionable kid sticks out his hand. But is it surprising that when you walk out of the room and realize that no one has averaged 20 and 20 in 45 years and that guy's name was Wilt Chamberlain, you start to question things? (This area is probably where I have the biggest problem with Fegan and his potential conflict of interest with Cuban. Someone in Jordan's camp needed to make sure he kept sight of reality. "DJ, you're really good and you can be better. But you're not an MVP candidate. You're not a franchise player. You're a difference maker on the defensive and you're the best rebounder in the league... and BTW Doc Rivers is the guy who made you those things.")

It's my feeling that Dallas was almost equally screwed whether they lost DeAndre on July 3 or five days later. You're spot on that the Mavs would have been better off keeping Tyson Chandler (the player I always hoped Jordan might someday be, though of course much closer to the end of his career), but the day Chandler agreed to sign in Phoenix everyone in both Dallas and LA knew that the team that lost out on Jordan was in big trouble -- no S&T for the Clippers -- no reasonable replacement for Chandler for Dallas. Dallas is screwed and I feel bad for Dirk and for L.J. Rotter and for the Beckster (but not for Tim! JK) but the majority of that screwage had nothing to do with the Jordan flip-flop.

The first meeting of the season between these two teams out to be fun, don't you think? Does the NBA make it opening night or Christmas? Which Mavs player gets to commit the ceremonial first foul on Jordan?

From: Rebecca Lawson
To: Steve Perrin

Surprisingly, I more or less agree with all of what you laid out as far as the ethics of the whole matter. (Hey, reasonable people can agree on a hot topic! Who knew?!) The system as it stands is really set up for this kind of thing to happen -- and while of course it's happened in the past, as you've mentioned, I believe this is the highest profile/most franchise altering instance.

My personal opinion is that they'll have to look at some changes to the system. Even if they can't do anything about the actual moratorium and handshake deals, perhaps some more stringent rules in the form of monitoring under the radar recruiting (by players and front office staff), or rules on agent involvement. I'm not well versed on the CBA enough to know if those protections are already in place and they're just being ignored. And I'm not sure what other changes I'd want to see outside of just ending the moratorium and going straight to signing deals, which I know has its own challenges. Perhaps our intrepid readers have some suggestions. Regardless, it does seem some sort of change is in order.

I do think Dallas may have had a bit more flexibility in those five days than it seems, though you're right that Tyson would have still been long gone. But someone like Roy Hibbert would have been an option, and a few other point guards may have been more willing to chat. Hard to complain on the point guard front after getting DWill though, who I think can/should rehab his image with the Mavs pretty easily. The Mavs front office is so good in some ways and so single-mindedly terrifying in others. Having said that, I will take Cubes over any owner any day of the week. Having spent some time around him the past few years, he is a genuinely nice person and always interested in making the team the best he possibly can. From a fan perspective, that's lovely.

As far as the first meeting between the two -- maaaan that is going to be a hot one. I have no idea whether they would go opening night or Christmas, but either way it'll be some prime basketball. Part of me really hopes they hold off to Christmas, so that the Mavs' new roster has a little more time to gel and hopefully can put up more of a fight. Maybe Matthews is even back by then, though I know they are definitely not rushing that.

Ceremonial first foul HAS to be Parsons, doesn't it? That would be all too fitting. And hey -- now that I'm living back in Southern California, maybe we'll be able to get together for a game again this season.