That was weird.
After verbally agreeing to sign a free agent contract with the Dallas Mavericks last Friday, DeAndre Jordan had a change of heart, and instead remained with the only NBA team he has ever known, the Los Angeles Clippers. And it all went down not exactly in front of us, but at least in front of our twitter feeds.
As even casual NBA fans are now no doubt aware, the NBA free agency period actually opens during a moratorium on signings (which, if you think about it, is pretty effed up). So while Jordan had made a verbal commitment to the Mavericks, there was no contract, because there literally could not be a contract until a minute after midnight on July 9. So when everyone woke up the morning of July 8, Jordan was a Maverick and the Clippers were screwed, but by the time everyone went to bed, the roles were reversed -- and it was all perfectly legal, if far from perfectly normal.
Watching it play out in real time was surreal, partly because the details emerged in fits and starts. Things that seem almost normal in retrospect were bizarro world bombshells when we first heard them. Did the Clippers hold Jordan hostage until midnight Eastern so he wouldn't talk to Mark Cuban again and change his mind back? Or did they all just hang out with their old pal until the document was signed because, hey, we came all this way so we might as well stay and watch you sign? One seems completely nuts, while the other is perfectly reasonable.
So what happened here? Is DeAndre Jordan an immature and unreliable opportunist who went back on his word, in the process upsetting a delicate balance that only worked because of the goodwill of players who had been honoring verbal agreements for years? Is Doc Rivers a whiny snake/sore loser who breached NBA protocol by continuing to woo his center after the point at which the etiquette says that you back off and move on?
Or did DeAndre Jordan get some bad advice, realize it after the fact, fire his agent and subsequently make the right decision for his career?
The fact that Jordan had initially agreed with Dallas was always weird and wrong -- Jordan was clearly going against his own self-interest in almost every measurable way. The Clippers could offer more money and a longer contract. The Clippers had the much better team and so could offer Jordan a much better chance to win. And although the Mavs seemed to have convinced him otherwise, at least temporarily, the Clippers offered him a better situation in which to thrive as a player.
Dallas' promises of more touches and 20 points per game were never realistic, and while Jordan might be excused for being taken in by the sales pitch, his representatives should not have been. Did Jordan's agent Dan Fegan have his client's best interests in mind through the process (bearing in mind that Fegan has a long history of working with Dallas owner Mark Cuban and that the two are close friends)? Well, based on the fact that Jordan wouldn't even allow Fegan into the room today when he met with the Clippers, I think we can safely say that DJ for one does not think so.
I wondered at the start of this crazy day whether the Clippers would regret getting back involved and in the process breaking a bunch of unwritten rules. Would agents trust them in future dealings? Would other teams? But if, as reports indicate, Jordan called Doc Rivers and expressed misgivings about his decision, it left Rivers little choice -- he had to pursue him. Those who would criticize Rivers need to ask themselves what they expected him to do in that situation. "Hey DJ, I hear you, you're having regrets, you think you made the wrong choice, you think you should have stayed with the Clippers. But you signed... nothing ... and have a verbal agreement .... that is totally non-binding, so really, there's nothing I can do. But good luck, man."
I do find it strange that Jordan refused to even give Dallas a chance to talk to him today, but that's his prerogative. If you follow the timeline, it indicates that Jordan did promise them another discussion -- which never occurred. But while Marc Stein tweeted that
ESPN sources say that DeAndre Jordan has promised the Mavericks a face-to-tace meeting tonight before he makes a final decision— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 8, 2015
he also indicated later that Jordan himself hadn't spoken to anyone from the Mavs since Tuesday. They can't both be true. Again, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems likely that Jordan's agent Fegan (who was not invited to the only meeting that mattered, the one with the Clippers) promised his pal Cuban another shot -- but it didn't matter, since Fegan was already de facto fired by that point.
Does this make everything OK in Clips Nation? Well, it's a hell of a lot better than it was for the last five days or so. In fact, it's pretty damn good. The wing rotation feels massively upgraded, with returnees J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford being joined by newcomers Paul Pierce, Lance Stevenson and yes, even Wesley Johnson. If they can retain Austin Rivers (a Fegan client, oops) and Glen Davis then the point guard and big rotations are no worse than they were in the post season, and they still have some time to try to shore them up a bit more. Losing Jordan for nothing would have been a terrible blow -- keeping him becomes the second greatest comeback in franchise history (still can't beat Game 1 in 2012 against the Grizzlies).
This all sucks for Dallas, but I'm completely serious when I say that it's probably for the best in the long run. They will clearly be much worse this season without Jordan, but with him they were still first round playoff fodder in the loaded West. Meanwhile, tying up $50M in three nice but ultimately limited players (Chandler Parson, Wesley Matthews and Jordan) was a recipe for disaster. Better to maintain the cap space and try to sign a true franchise player for the max, as opposed to simply telling someone that they are a franchise player when they're not.
The Clippers, somehow, have become the best off-season story in the NBA, year in and year out. In 2011 it was the acquisition of Chris Paul after his trade to the Lakers was rescinded for "basketball reasons". In 2013 it was Doc Rivers, one of the only coaches ever to get traded. Last season it was the ownership change with Donald Sterling out and Steve Ballmer in. And now this -- the weirdest day in NBA history.
Every time I think I've seen it all in the NBA, they come up with something else.