Mere minutes after NBA Free Agency began at midnight on July 1st, DeAndre Jordan and the Dallas Mavericks reached a verbal agreement on a one year deal close at a salary close to the $24.1 million Jordan would have received from the Clippers had he chosen not to opt out of his previous contract.
Those following the team’s day-to-day were prepared for this, but when viewed in a larger context, it’s a pretty stunning turn of events. Jordan of course famously spurned Dallas after another “verbal agreement” back in the summer of 2015, and as recently as — oh, I dunno — two months ago, a reunion between the two would have sooner been the punchline to a joke before a real strategy. Yet here we are.
Leading into Free Agency
Prior to the NBA Draft, when rumblings began to surface the team was interested in chasing big name free agents for another playoff run, I was dubious. The team won just 24 games last year, and was in desperate need of acquiring young talent they could build around. Typically, this is a slow process that takes a few years, and throwing big bucks at older vets to try and win now doesn’t fit that timeline at all.
However, a couple of big things happened on draft night. One, Dallas acquired Luka Doncic, a pick and roll savant and perhaps the best player in the draft, and two, they traded their 2019 first rounder (technically it’s protected, but odds were always good Dallas would convey it) to get him. Suddenly, the team was looking at one final hurrah for icon Dirk Nowitzki, and no real incentive to tank.
Whether the team wants to admit it or not (publicly, they’ve been saying for a long time that winning next season was the plan, and maybe they’re being totally truthful there), I think that changed the algebra at least a little. It certainly made a push to spend big in free agency more palatable to fans like me, who would have otherwise argued in favor of trying to add another top 10 pick to the mix.
Jordan is still exactly what Dallas needs
DeAndre Jordan is not quite the same player Dallas pursued so feverishly in 2015. His block rate has dipped by more than half (shockingly, he didn’t even average a block per game last season), and by most every defensive metric he was less effective, something that can’t be totally blamed on losing Chris Paul. SB Nation’s Clips Nation has written an article or three about Jordan’s athletic decline, which isn’t so severe that we should take it to mean he’s a non-entity on defense, but it will be something worth keeping an eye on, given the strong precedent for big men who rely heavily on athleticism to hit a wall at some point and fade quickly from there.
Still, let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth. DeAndre Jordan is maybe the NBA’s most durable big man, an elite rebounder, and one of the best finishers in the league. He averaged 1.25 PPP as a pick and roll man last season, and as a rim-runner in Rick Carlisle’s system, with Luka Doncic and Dennis Smith Jr. beside him, Jordan could help transform what was the 23rd ranked offense in 2017-18 into a powerhouse. He’ll almost certainly help boost the team’s near-historically poor rebound rate (they were dead last).
Looking at the projected starting lineup for next season, the blueprint for a legitimate contender emerges. Dallas will feature their two young building blocks — Smith and Doncic — as ballhandling playmakers, with a high quality roll man, and a pair of 3 and D shooters in Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews spotting up. We can dispute the quality or experience of the individual players, but that’s the kind of lineup that has tremendous balance and the right identity to compete in the modern pace and space NBA.
The deal grants flexibility for the future
What’s more, in getting Jordan to take a one year deal, Dallas will have the opportunity to clear both his and Wes’ money off the books next year, if younger options that better fit Luka and Dennis’ timeline surface. It’s possible Harrison Barnes could opt out and become a free agent as well, and while all those open starter spots might seem scary, I would look at it as allowing Dallas to have as much flexibility as possible to build the right core.
The hope is that with young players with legitimate star upside on the roster for the first time in decade(s), the Mavs might finally be an attractive destination for premium free agents, rather than a leverage tool. In the meantime, what better way to develop those young players than giving them the chance to play with established complimentary veterans who know their roles and come to work hard every day?
Dallas will still have a very difficult road back to the playoffs, but one thing’s for sure: basketball will be fun again. Welcome home, DeAndre.