It was Chris Paul’s first season in Los Angeles and the hysteria around his acquisition had yet to die down. Of course, there were still questions abound regarding how, and if, a mismatched Clippers roster would enter the fray as contenders.
One of the more pressing concerns was magnified every time either of the team’s young front court tandem stepped to the foul line. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were a liability. Reports surfaced throughout that season about how hard they worked at the line. Shooting coach Bob Thate wasn’t in LA yet though, and the work Griffin and Jordan put in saw limited improvement that first season with Paul onboard.
An early sign of frustration bubbled around mid-March with Jordan, then a fourth-year center and oversized, freakishly athletic kid. As the team wrapped up practice and media members skulked into the northwest corner of the court for their NBA mandated practice “viewing”, Jordan had already hoisted at least a dozen free throws on the court furthest from the scrum. That’s when cameras began rolling.
Everyone from bloggers to television stations zeroed in on Jordan, one of two players remaining on the court. He continued shooting, but as the number of active cell phones, big handhelds and DSLRs increased, so too did Jordan’s acrimony. Finally, he lost it.
“Get those [expletive] out of here,” Jordan said to the team’s communications director with enough volume for all present to hear.
It was seemingly the apex of his irritation about an ongoing story about his errant foul shooting. It was a pressure more magnified than any other time in Jordan’s basketball career. The story wouldn’t go away and Jordan had had enough.
To be fair, there were hardly any other options for post-practice b-roll that day. But that was hardly something Jordan would consider. As cameras continued to roll, Jordan lowered his voice and boosted his ire, telling the communications director, effectively: “If you don’t take care of them, I’ll just tell C.P. (Chris Paul). He’ll get you to do it for me.”
The point wasn’t lost. Jordan, a few months after Paul, the All-NBA point guard, was acquired, was feeling alienated. The organization, in his mind, had turned its back on players in order to placate its newest star. What Paul asked for, he received.
It was telling that the longest tenured Clipper realized almost immediately that perhaps Lob City wasn’t necessarily a community built for all. Jordan’s reaction, in the heat of the moment, spoke to his lack of maturity. His relationship with then head coach Vinny Del Negro would dissipate over the next two seasons with much of that same sentiment. The lack of trust went deep—and was felt on both sides.
Flash forward to the summer of 2013, Del Negro was out. Jordan, who had already tried to leave once by signing an offer sheet with Golden State, seemed potentially on his way out, too. Enter Doc Rivers. Within 48 hours of his hiring (or acquisition from Boston), Rivers was meeting over dinner with Jordan. Former assistant coach Kevin Eastman said they spent much of the first portion of the meal discussing “everything but basketball.” Rivers knew he needed buy-in from Jordan. The trust that had eroded in the Jordan-Del Negro relationship would take time to build.
The personal conversation and ultimately straightforward approach to Jordan’s anticipated role set things in motion. But it wouldn’t have been possible without Jordan’s ability to self-reflect. At 24, he was two years more experienced, more mature.
Those next five seasons alongside Rivers, Jordan continued to grow as both a player and a person. His raw numbers, alone, told much of the story. He led the league in field goal percentage for five consecutive seasons, didn’t miss a game for nearly six years, and was twice the top rebounder in the league, topping 15 boards per game twice. In five years with Rivers, Jordan averaged a double-double every season. He was an All-Star in 2016-17. He was thrice an All-NBA player and twice an All-NBA defender.
He anchored the middle of a defense that performed better than it seemed on the surface, especially in the four years with Paul, Jordan and Griffin together with Rivers. He was a talker. He directed traffic, and he went from a guy that people internally thought was babied to someone who was counted on to make pick-and-roll coverage calls, direct traffic and play the role of janitor to mop up at the rim for the oft-gambling perimeter players.
It goes without saying that Jordan hardly became the perfect player as he developed from an asthmatic, No. 35 overall pick in 2008 to an All-NBA first teamer in 2017. He had flaws that still haunt him. The foul shooting didn’t improve until last season (a leap to 58.0 percent after never shooting better than 52 percent in seven previous years as a regular starter). He never developed anything outside of the paint (please don’t suggest his one 3-pointer, which was hilarious, in 2015 counts). His back-to-the-basket game was better in a pinch, but not sufficient enough to ever warrant deliberate touches. He still had his lapses in leadership. And, of course, he tried to leave again in the summer of 2015 until a conflux of barred doors, emoji orgies, and more synchronized Swatches than Parker Lewis changed his mind.
There is likely no player in history more perfectly a Clipper than DeAndre Jordan. He spanned the Donald Sterling and Steve Ballmer eras. He was pre-and-post Chris Paul. His deficiencies were magnified just as much as tremendous skillset. He was at the center of some of the franchise’s most defining moments, from the evisceration of Brandon Knight to leading the call for a boycott of Game 4 against the Warriors in the Sterling aftermath. His rising from second round project to State Farm co-star and All-NBAer make him arguably the best Clippers draft pick of all-time.
His departure, while falling by the wayside in many ways thanks to the relocation of a certain King, is still as deafening for the star-depleted Clippers as anyone else’s has been. He grew up with the team, and the people of Los Angeles. After trying to leave twice before, the third time was inevitable. It’s fitting, though, that in leaving he delivered a dessert truck as a gesture of gratitude to Clippers’ employees. The 22-year-old Jordan, snidely remarking that he was being overlooked, wouldn’t have done that. Nearly eight years later, all packed for Dallas, the bouncy, effervescent kid was all grown up and as proud parents often must do, Clippers fans had to let him go.