According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who has until Friday to make a decision on a $24,119,025 player option next season, is considering opting in to facilitate a trade to a new team. Jordan is considered likely to wish to leave the Clippers in free agency, but unlikely to make $24 million on the open market this July, leaving him in a tricky situation.
Among the various options DeAndre Jordan has been weighing, according to league sources, is opting into the final season of his current contract (at $24.1 million) before Friday's midnight deadline to facilitate a trade -- with Dallas, sources say, among the teams interested— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) June 26, 2018
A deal with Dallas is somewhat suspicious, however. The Mavericks are going to have enough cap room to offer Jordan $24 million in July if they really want him, and while there’s some upside to acquiring his option year via trade—they only have to pay him that rate for one year before having his bird rights to attempt to re-sign him to a lower rate in the summer of 2019—it seems like it might not really be worth the hassle of figuring out a trade with the Clippers.
Dallas could recoup value if they swap Wesley Matthews or Harrison Barnes for Jordan, as clearing either of those contracts would allow the Mavericks to still have major cap space to add a free agent in addition to DJ. However, it seems unlikely that the Clippers would want to take Matthews’ contract without compensation, and it seems unlikely that the Mavs would willingly part with Barnes, who is their best player. Matthews has never been the same player after rupturing his Achilles tendon a few years ago, and it doesn’t make much sense for the Clippers to pay him $18.6 million next season, even on an expiring deal. Barnes, on the other hand, is a flawed but effective player who has averaged 19 points and 6 rebounds for the Mavericks each of the last two seasons as their starting power forward. It’s difficult to envision a competitive Mavericks team in 2019 that doesn’t feature Barnes as one of its leading scorers.
Dallas’ cap space can also be considered a way to facilitate a Jordan trade. Because of their room under the cap, the Mavericks do not have to perfectly match salaries. During the 2017-18 cap year, which ends June 30th, the Mavericks are still $13.9 million under the cap, meaning they only need to send out about $8.7 million to acquire Jordan’s $22.6 million 2017-18 salary. This could be accomplished with Dwight Powell’s $9 million 2017-18 salary, but while his $9.6 million salary for 2018-19 might be palatable, his $10.3 million player option for 2019-20 is a big impediment towards the Clippers being willing to make a deal. An attempt to piece together smaller salaries falls short, as Nerlens Noel and Doug McDermott are both pending free agents and not eligible to be traded.
The Clippers and Mavericks could also agree in principle to a trade that could be completed in July, by which point Dallas will have opened enough cap space to absorb Jordan’s option year outright. Jordan would opt in with the understanding that he’d go to Dallas once the 2018-19 cap year opened, when Dallas wouldn’t have to send Powell back to the Clippers to make a trade legal. The Clippers would still look for some form of compensation from the Mavericks, likely in the form of draft picks seeing as the Mavericks don’t have many players on their roster who are both intriguing and available.
One common question that I have received is regarding potential sign-and-trade deals for Nerlens Noel and/or Doug McDermott. These become very tricky because of timing. Jordan has to make a decision on his player option by June 29th, while the Clippers can’t begin free agency negotiations with Noel and McDermott until July 1st. This seems like a situation that is ripe for a CBA circumvention investigation, with the league likely eager to not set a precedent of allowing opt-in-and-trade as a loophole for teams to start free agency pitches early. In theory, the Clippers and Mavericks could agree to a deal in principle now, and then adjust that trade in a mutually agreeable manner if the Clippers successfully pitch Noel and/or McDermott on July 1st—but it seems far-fetched. In addition to trouble with the league office, the Clippers would also need cooperation from those free agents. As a rule, NBA transactions become significantly less likely for each additional party whose agreement is needed to complete the transaction.
While a deal with Dallas seems difficult to figure, the fact that Dallas is at all interested is likely an indication that, as Stein suggests, other teams are in the running as well. For all the marginal value that the Mavericks might get from getting DJ now instead of in July, I’m not quite sure that it’s worth the hassle for them to give something to the Clippers to facilitate a deal. Acquiring Jordan here in late June would also restrict the Mavericks from pursuing DeMarcus Cousins, who is rumored to be their main target in free agency and who is a better and younger player than Jordan. It’s possible that Dallas prefers Jordan’s steadiness and consistent iron man status to Cousins’ sometimes volatile temperament and recovering Achilles, but it’s more likely that the Mavs know their odds at Cousins are slim and are worried about striking out at the center position if Jordan never makes it to free agency.
It’s unclear who Jordan’s other suitors may be—possibilities include the Rockets, Wizards, and Bucks, who have all been linked to Jordan in the past several months—but a workable deal may be hard wherever the Clippers look.
If push comes to shove and a trade that benefits the Clippers isn’t available by Friday, it remains to be seen if Jordan is actually willing to opt out of $24 million dollars or if he’d return to the Clippers for one final season. It’s also worth noting that while Jordan can control his trade destination this week, while he has his opt-out as leverage to kill any deal, he forfeits that control if he were to opt in Friday without a deal on the table, which would allow the Clippers to send him to any team of their choosing either now, or at the deadline.
The best-case scenario for Jordan by far is an opt-in-and-trade before Friday to a destination of his choosing. The question is whether or not an option will emerge that benefits both the team the Clippers and the team he wishes to join.