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2017-18 Clippers Exit Interviews: DeAndre Jordan

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The longest-tenured player in Clippers history may be reaching the end of his time in Los Angeles.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Clippers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Name: DeAndre Joran

Age: 29

Years in NBA: 10

Key Stats:

12 points, 15.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.9 blocks per game (31.5 minutes per game in 77 appearances, all starts). 64.5% from the field, and 58% from the free throw line.

2017-2018 Salary: $22,642,350

Future Contract Status: Player option for $24,119,025 this summer. If he opts out, he’ll be an unrestricted free agent, and the Clippers will have full bird rights. If he opts in, it’ll be the same situation, but next summer.

Summary:

Writing about DeAndre Jordan at this particular point in time is a little weird, at least for me. It’s part of why I’ve struggled in recent months to write about looming decisions regarding his player option and free agency. It seems unceremonious to reduce DeAndre, who is one of the most important Clippers ever: second in win shares in Clippers franchise history, first in games played, second in minutes played, first in total rebounds, defensive rebounds, and offensive rebounds, first in blocks, 8th in points, and first in field goal %. Basically any category, Jordan is top 10 in franchise history—he’s been here that long, and he’s consistently been that good.

At the same time, there’s really no other responsible way to frame Jordan’s position with the Clippers than to look critically at his contract situation. No matter what sentimental attachments exist, we all know that DeAndre isn’t the level of star who, like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, you pay to keep regardless of the price. And as tough as it might be for This Blogger to treat long-tenured Clipper legends unceremoniously, that doesn’t seem to be a problem shared by the Clippers’ revamped front office, who pulled off the blockbuster Blake Griffin trade in a manner that could be characterized as both shrewd and callous.

Maybe the most soothing factor leading to a potential divorce this summer is just that—faith in the front office to do what is good for the franchise long-term. When a decade-long fan favorite leaves the team, it’s obviously a little gut-wrenching for those fans, and that’s worsened by a general tendency in past Clipper regimes to routinely make major mistakes. We don’t want to go through DJ leaving, and having to watch him play for another team, but we especially don’t want to go through that and learn down the line that it was the wrong decision. The front office took a big risk with fanbase loyalty when they traded Blake, but the short-term results of that trade have proven that it was the right choice (and the Clippers haven’t even gotten to use that first-round pick from Detroit yet). Hopefully, if DeAndre leaves the team, we can at least take solace in the fact that not re-signing him was probably in the best interest of building the next great Clippers team.

Strengths:

What DeAndre does as a player is not exactly something that needs to be rehashed in this kind of article: he’s been a fixture on the team for 9 years, and while he’s obviously improved tremendously over the course of his career, he’s still the same archetype of athletic, rim-running, shot-blocking center that he was when he was backing up Chris Kaman as a rookie. Everyone knows his game, and he’s been remarkably consistent: 11.5 and 15, 12.7 and 13.8, 12.7 and 13.8, 12 and 15.2 are his point and rebound averages from the last four seasons (yes, he got both categories down to the same tenth in back-to-back seasons).

This season, with Chris Paul off of the team and Blake Griffin only playing 33 games before being traded, we got to see DeAndre step into more of a leadership role. He’s always quarterbacked the defense to an extent, but in veteran-laden 50-win seasons it felt like that was his role as a cog in a well-oiled machine, where all of the other pieces knew and executed their roles as well. This Clippers team wasn’t quite like that—first of all, they were significantly worse defensively than any team from the Lob City era. It felt like DeAndre was more of a mentor to younger players on the team and players who came up from the G-League. We saw patience and teaching, and we saw exasperation and frustration in a very humanizing way. Above all, DeAndre was more of an “anchor” for the Clippers this season than any other, even if he isn’t quite defending the rim like he used to: he was always present, starting all 77 games he appeared in on a team where only one other player started more than half of the team’s games. The Clippers utilized a league-high 37 starting lineups this season, and Jordan was part of 35 (!) of them, holding steady as the team constantly changed around him.

This doesn’t fit anywhere in the flow of the writing, but I just want to also note that DJ had a 30-point game this season, setting a career high and breaking a 20 w/o 30 streak for Clippers centers that dates back to the Chris Kaman era.

Weaknesses:

One of the biggest warning signs against signing DeAndre to a long-term deal this summer is that his athletic decline—an incredibly troubling thing for someone with his play style—seems to have just begun this season. His defensive impact has always been hard to pin down (we can point to a steep dropoff in blocks as an indicator, but it also speaks to some scheme changes and isn’t a great measure of defensive effectiveness to begin with), because at his best and most active, DJ is able to change games in a way that’s limited to only the best defenders in the league. But that level of performance isn’t a regular occurrence, and he’s prone to really taking plays off on the defensive end. It’s rare for DJ to take a game off, as he almost always ends up with his 12 & 12, but for large chunks of games he tends to seem disengaged. It might just be a reality of rest, given the burden he’s asked to bear on that end and his near-constant presence in the lineup, but it’s hard for a team to put together a good 48-minute defensive performance when their most important defensive player fades in and out mentally.

Future with the Clippers:

This is where the going gets tough. DeAndre has a player option for $24 million for next season, and he’ll have to decide in June if he’s going to play for that salary and test free agency next year, or opt out and test the market in a couple of months. Frankly, while he’s eligible for the 10-year veteran max, it’s hard to imagine any team giving it to him. Actually, I would be really, really surprised if someone offers DeAndre more than $24 million—meaning entering free agency likely would mean leaving money on the table. If another team is willing to offer him a deal like 4 years, $72 million, is that better than one year at $24? It depends on how his camp thinks next season is going to go, and what his value will be in free agency in 2019 if he shows signs of decline after turning 30 this July.

The only scenario where I see DJ getting more than $24 million is from the Clippers, who are trying to avoid long-term contractual burdens and could use DJ’s bird rights to give him more money on a shorter deal in what could be a mutually agreeable arrangement.

If DeAndre opts in, he has to be aware that there’s a strong chance the Clippers look to trade his contract. A center of his caliber on an expiring deal would be able to net them a decent return, probably a package centered around a first-round draft pick or a solid young player. A trade would also save the team from having to potentially lose him in free agency next summer when they are unwilling to pay him long-term. Of course, being traded might be DeAndre’s best option: it would give a different team his bird rights in 2019, potentially a team that is willing to use them to give him a lucrative deal beyond what teams with cap room can afford.