As we painstakingly await DeAndre Jordan's decision in free agency between the Clippers and Mavericks, to which he is supposedly "torn 50-50", many have attempted to understand exactly what rock and hard place DJ is stuck between. The argument for the Clippers is clear: they offer the best chance to win a title. With two top-10 players in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, DJ would make a dynamic Big Three, all of which were named to All NBA Teams this past year. Add in some sweet shooting from Redick, some ear-blowing from Lance, and BUCKETS from The Truth, and you have yourself the makings of a title contender.
What can the Mavs offer DJ? Proximity to home, endless dinners with Chandler Parsons, and apparently most importantly to Jordan, a bigger role within the offense and team. According to various reports, Jordan wants to be an offensive focal point with whatever team he signs with. DJ averaged about 17 points and 18 rebounds when Blake was out for a month this season, and he may be thinking on a team where he is one of the main options, that could be the norm. Like every player, Jordan wants to make an All Star team and accumulate personal accolades, all of which may not be possible in the shadow of Paul and Griffin.
Stuck between the chance to win and the chance to be the man, what should Jordan choose? He may benefit from looking to his past for guidance.
When Jordan was recruited to Texas A&M as a freshman, he was projected to be a Top-10 pick with teams salivating at his freakish athleticism and potential. However the coach that recruited him, Bill Gillespie, bolted to Kentucky and new coach Mark Turgeron took over. Playing a slower, defensive-minded style, Turgeron wanted Jordan to focus on two things: defending and rebounding. However, DJ had different ideas. Thinking about how best to showcase his talent for NBA teams, Jordan wanted to see a lot more of the ball and to play a bigger role in the offense. As a result of butting heads with his coach, Jordan was often characterized as unmotivated with severe problems regarding his attitude and maturity level. All of these red flags caused Jordan's draft stock to plummet from the lottery to the second round.
The beginning of Jordan's career with the Clippers mirrored many of the same problems he faced in college. Both of his coaches Mike Dunleavy Sr. and Vinny Del Negro saw enormous amounts of untapped potential in the 7-footer. Dunleavy wanted Jordan to focus on rebounding, blocking shots, and running the floor but felt that Jordan would get frustrated with his lack of inclusion on offense. Both Dunleavy and Del Negro knew that without touches and scoring points, Jordan would grow disengaged on the court and not focus on the fundamentals. The coaches tried to get Jordan some easy baskets early on to get the best out of him, with VDN famously running a post up for DJ on the first play of every game. Jordan perfectly represented the Lob City moniker providing plenty of flash and highlights but little substance. For every assassination of Brandon Knight there would be a missed defensive assignment or getting fooled on a pump fake. Jordan never fully bought in and often found himself riding the bench during fourth quarters in favor of more experienced veterans like Kenyon Martin and Lamar Odom who knew their roles.
Enter Doc Rivers. When Doc came to the Clippers, he built DeAndre Jordan up to be the next Bill Russell, quite literally making that exact analogy to the chagrin of the basketball community. Doc's motto to Jordan was the same as every other coach before him: focus on defense and rebounding, that's where you'll be a star; you're going to be the Defensive Player of the Year. However, unlike every other coach before him, Doc did the impossible and got DeAnde to fully dedicate himself. The Clippers were never going to call a play for their center, any points would come off of effort plays from running the floor for dunks, pick and rolls, or getting offensive rebounds. Missed free throws wouldn't mean getting yanked from the game as long as you could get stops on the defensive end. Jordan flourished. Having finally overcome an oversized vision of himself, Jordan excelled in his role as defensive anchor, leading the league in rebounds, field goal percentage, and dunks. In two years he earned himself critical acclaim with two 3rd place DPOY finishes, a 3rd team All NBA spot, and a 1st team All Defense. Most of all, under Doc, Jordan earned himself a max contract.
And now Jordan finds himself in the quagmire of that max contract, facing a familiar crossroads between winning and being the man. While I'm not going to be the one to tell Jordan what is best for him, his own history shows a pretty clear-cut record. Success has never really come from DJ seeking a bigger role for himself, whether in college or the NBA. Jordan has been at his best buying into the role of defensive anchor tailored specifically to his skill set. It's about knowing who you are and maximizing what you can do versus what you can't.
Clipper fans will hope that DJ understands all of this and history is not doomed to repeat itself. Luckily this is a choice Jordan has plenty of experience with, which is why it isn't actually a choice at all. DeAndre Jordan will be a Clipper.