Today’s report that DeAndre Jordan is reportedly interested in joining the Houston Rockets, from USA Today’s Kelly Iko, isn’t the first murmur we’ve heard that the Clippers’ center could be angling to reunite with both his hometown and point guard Chris Paul. There’s a lot of angles that make sense: DeAndre is from Houston, he had the best years of his career playing with Chris Paul, and he’s seemingly destined to leave the team soon as the last remaining core piece from the Lob City era.
It’s hard to know what exactly to make of Iko’s report because of the ambiguity that can arise from unnamed sources quoting players out of context. The report states that Jordan is “focused on the possibility of playing in Houston,” and that he was “in the ears” of Rockets players last season, “expressing his longtime desire to play in his hometown.” Iko also includes an anecdote of Jordan going onto the Rockets’ team bus following their storming of the Clippers’ STAPLES Center locker room to speak to players regarding “frustration with the Clippers’ organization and a strong desire to leave.”
Sometimes, the rumor mill can tend to make smoke where there’s no fire. Maybe DeAndre is intent on leaving the Clippers because of dissatisfaction with the organization, and maybe his heart is set on returning home to Houston. But it’s easy, while less exciting, to imagine that a player might be frustrated with his team from time to time, and want to play in his hometown, without having either be absolute indicators of his eventual free agency decision. I like living in New York. I would also like to move back to California and live somewhere where I don’t spend several months of the year frozen. But when I graduated college in New York, and had an opportunity to move back to California, I chose an opportunity to stay in New York instead. If I was an NBA All-Star, and millions of people cared about my career choices, then it would have been easy for someone I know to get some attention by leaking to a reporter that I had spoken to them about preferring living in California to living in New York. It would have been true. It wouldn’t have been especially relevant.
The reported frustration with the team goes the same way. DeAndre has been with the Clippers through an entire career of drama: Blake Griffin being drafted, Mike Dunleavy’s firing, Neil Olshey and Vinny Del Negro’s entire tenures, the Chris Paul trade, the Doc Rivers trade, the Donald Sterling saga, the entire GM Doc era, another Chris Paul trade, and the Blake Griffin trade. The Los Angeles Clippers have played 57 playoff games with DeAndre Jordan as their starting center, and, including the Buffalo Braves and San Diego Clippers era, they’ve played 47 playoff games with other starting centers. DeAndre Jordan got here at the same time as shooting guard Eric Gordon and lasted longer than shooting guards Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick. One time, Jordan tried to leave the Clippers in order to sign with the Dallas Mavericks in free agency—so his teammates literally flew to Houston and locked him inside his house until he could officially put pen to paper to re-sign with the Clippers.
The point being that I’m sure DeAndre has had his frustrations with the organization over the near decade he’s spent as a Clipper. I think having frustrating days at work is pretty understandable, but most of us are able to vent to our friends without reading about it in the paper the next day. DJ was also involved in a lot of trade rumors in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline, when these frustrations were reportedly aired. Of course he was frustrated.
None of this means that DeAndre is returning to the Clippers. He may very well be adamant about leaving the team. But while it’s easy to make a big deal about vague and convenient rumors, it’s important to view things in perspective.
Even if D.J. leaves the Clippers, I highly doubt that he’ll be able make his way to his hometown Rockets. The first reason is simple: Houston already has Clint Capela at center, and while DeAndre is still a very good player, Capela had a phenomenal season and turned in big-time playoff performances. Clint is six years younger than Jordan. Why exactly should Houston make a roster change that could impact their chemistry while downgrading their talent and getting significantly older?
The only possible explanation would be Capela leaving in free agency, which would require the Rockets declining to exercise their right of first refusal in restricted free agency and letting him leave. Even without Capela’s contract on the books, the Rockets won’t have cap space to sign DeAndre as a free agent once they give Chris Paul his new contract. Furthermore, it’s impossible for the Rockets to put together a trade or sign-and-trade package that the Clippers would find worthwhile, as any deal would require L.A. taking back a bad, long-term contract. And a potential far-fetched Capela-Jordan double-sign-and-trade would require overcoming base year compensation—a NBA rule that would limit Capela’s outgoing trade value to half of his salary, which would force Jordan to take a salary much below market value, which in turn would not be enough outgoing salary to allow the Clippers to acquire Capela’s deal. Even reaching the base year compensation hurdle would require the Clippers to offer Capela a max contract that they can’t afford without Houston’s help in a sign-and-trade, for Capela to choose the Clippers over his other suitors, and for Houston to choose to help Capela make his way to L.A. rather than simply allowing him to sign an offer sheet and then match it, forcing him to remain a Rocket.
We’re officially down the rabbit hole of never-going-to-happen obscure scenarios.
DeAndre Jordan will make a decision later this month on his player option for next season worth $24,119,025. If he opts out, he’ll enter free agency, where he’ll have a hard time making more than $24 million, but could lock up long-term money at a slightly lower rate compared to his one-year option. That priority of long-term security is contradictory to the Clippers’ current efforts to keep themselves free of burdensome, large, lengthy contracts so as to maintain their flexibility going forward. That contradiction of priorities naturally creates uncertainty regarding a potential new contract with the team.
This was all true last week, we’ve known it was coming for months, and it’ll remain to be the case at least until the NBA draft approaches, when initial opt-in-and-trade scenarios become at least plausible. We might learn more about DJ’s fate in the coming weeks as leaks come in regarding potential trading spots if he opts in, or progressing talks on a new deal with the Clippers, or teams looking to meet with him in July, but we aren’t going to learn anything by overreacting to anonymous sources taking months-old off-hand remarks out of context.