Last week brought us one of the most surprising and dramatic NBA free agency story lines in years: having agreed verbally to a max deal worth four years and over $80 million with the Dallas Mavericks, free agent center Deandre Jordan got cold feet and re-signed with the Los Angeles Clippers.
That situation alone would make for a great deal of drama.
Throw in the way that half the Clippers organization seemed to descend on Jordan’s Houston home in the 11th hour to keep him aboard, as well as that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban might be the worst executive in sports to piss off, and it felt like a bona-fide Hollywood thriller – or at least a daytime soap opera — infused with world class athletes and tens of millions of dollars at stake.
Maybe the most incredible thing is that no one – not the Clippers, and not Jordan – seems to have violated any rules or codes of conduct throughout the process.
To summarize media reports about what happened, we know that Jordan reached out to members of the Clippers organization when he began feeling like he’d made the wrong decision. In response, several Clippers – led by stars Chris Paul, JJ Redick and Blake Griffin, along with head coach Doc Rivers – flew straight to Jordan’s offseason home in Houston to see if the situation could be salvaged.
This all happened during the last night of what’s called the free agency “moratorium” period in the NBA – a nine-day stretch during which players can negotiate and make verbal agreements, but not actually sign contracts.
Then things really got crazy. The Clippers contingent stayed in Jordan’s home late into the night, until it became clear they weren’t leaving before midnight – at which time the star center could officially re-sign with the team.
Meanwhile, Cuban and members of the Mavericks team were reportedly trying to reach Jordan to no avail.
The dramatic way to look at it would be that the Clippers basically barricaded Jordan in his house and effectively closed off any ongoing negotiations with the Mavericks. But the reality is simpler, and more innocent: Deandre Jordan changed his mind, the Clippers leapt at the opportunity to keep him in the fold, and the Mavericks were shut out, rudely and perhaps even offensively, but not illegally.
For the Clippers, the result is that the 2015-16 season has effectively been saved. No one on the roster would have been able to replace Jordan’s production, and the team had been facing a pretty scary reality of wasting the remainder of Chris Paul’s prime with a group good enough to make the playoffs, but not challenge for a title. The return of Deandre Jordan solidifies the Clippers’ core and keeps them in contention.
For the Mavericks, this was an absolute disaster. Jordan is a player who makes an enormous impact, and losing him hurts the Mavs’ prospects; but this situation was as much about the players Dallas could have chased instead of Jordan as Jordan himself.
A talented handful of big men including LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, David West, and David Lee signed with new teams during the moratorium period when the Mavericks believed they’d already addressed their needs with Jordan. Others such as Greg Monroe and Tyson Chandler had already signed with teams, presumably left alone by Dallas during its chase for and negotiations with Jordan.
In the end, Dallas might have salvaged its situation to some extent when it worked out a pretty favorable trade for ex-Bucks center Zaza Pachulia – by no means the player Jordan is, but a serviceable center who figures to start for the Mavericks.
The team then used some of its spare cash no longer owed to Jordan to beef up its contract for incoming shooting guard Wesley Matthews, and signed one-time superstar point guard Deron Williams for $10 million over two years.
These deals are a reflection of the awkward situation Mark Cuban finds himself in during the twilight of Dirk Nowitzki’s career. Really, it’s somewhat reminiscent of the situation the Lakers have been in with Kobe Bryant, or even the one baseball’s New York Yankees experienced with Derek Jeter: an all-time great player who, at the end of his career, can’t carry the team anymore, but still deserves the respect of playing on a competitive roster.
Some would argue the wiser course of action for Cuban would have been cut his losses and begin a rebuild once Jordan spurned his team. Instead, he’s salvaged an intriguing roster that could compete for a playoff berth, but has no hope of a title.
And talking about things in those terms gets to the heart of the issue. With his wacky free agency indecision, Deandre Jordan didn’t just change his mind. He drastically altered the future of two franchises. With one phone call he might have simultaneously prolonged Chris Paul’s prime and effectively ended Dirk Nowitzki’s career.
This has all sparked a conversation on whether or not the moratorium period is really fair. Jordan’s saga appears to have come from genuine indecision, but it vividly illustrated the fact that players hold a great deal of power over NBA franchises as things are currently structured.
For his part, commissioner Adam Silver recently stated that while the moratorium is an imperfect system, he still believes the league is “striking the right balance between teams having the opportunity to talk to players when they become free agents and creating certainty at some point when contracts are entered into” (as quoted at ESPN.com).
That means that in the short-term, there is no impact of the Deandre Jordan saga, at least in terms of league-wide rule changes. The end result seems to be that while one team was spurned and another saved, no official wrongdoing occurred.
But don’t try telling that to Mark Cuban.