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This time around, only one emoji mattered.
Three years after his agreement and eventual backtracking led to one of the wildest reversals in NBA social media history — which, admittedly, isn’t a very long history, but it does have some real bangers in its back catalogue — three-time All-NBA center DeAndre Jordan has indeed made his way to Texas. For right now, at least.
The freshly opted-out unrestricted free agent center consummated his renewed interest in the Dallas Mavericks shortly after the opening of the NBA’s free-agent signing period on Sunday morning, “verbally agreeing” to terms on a one-year deal “approaching” the $24.1 million he would have made in the final year of his deal with the Clippers, as first reported by Marc Stein of the New York Times.
That’s a hefty chunk of change for a one-year agreement, a la the Philadelphia 76ers using their status as one of the few teams with significant salary cap space last season to land J.J. Redick, but it serves both sides. It allows Jordan the opportunity to re-enter free agency next summer ahead of the salary cap’s projected rise to $109 million, which could mean many more teams with financial flexibility to vie for his services than were on the table in this cash-strapped summer. It also gives Dallas’ braintrust — owner Mark Cuban, general manager Donnie Nelson, coach Rick Carlisle — the chance to essentially test-drive Jordan to find out if he’s the answer in the middle they’ve sought since Tyson Chandler left town, and if he’s really as hand-in-glove a fit as they’ve long believed he might be.
Jordan, who turns 30 on July 15, has become one of the NBA’s most consistently productive pick-and-roll dive men. The 6-foot-11, 265-pound center is a massive screener whose slices through the lane draw attention from help defenders night in and night out, and who remains athletic enough to elevate above the defense to finish damn near any lob you throw him.
Jordan led the NBA in field goal percentage for five straight years before finishing second to Houston’s Clint Capela last year, converting 64.5 percent of his looks. Only seven players in the league produced more points per possession when rolling to the rim after setting a screen last season, according to Synergy Sports Technology’s game-charting data.
That kind of finisher should do wonders for Dallas’ young playmaking duo of rising sophomore point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and incoming rookie point forward Luka Doncic, who figure to benefit from both the space Jordan can carve out for them with his hulking frame — he tied for eighth in the league in screen assists per game last season in L.A. — and from his gifts as a finisher in traffic. That could provide a major boost to a Mavericks attack that has ranked 23rd among 30 NBA teams in offensive efficiency in each of the last two years.
Jordan’s also a ferocious rebounder on both ends of the floor, having twice led the league in caroms corralled and pulling down a career-best 15.2 boards per night last season. In particular, his work on the offensive glass — where he can bulldoze opposing centers to get to preferred position or soar over them — could prove helpful for a Mavericks squad that could neither shoot straight (ranking 26th in the league in team field goal percentage last season) nor extend plays (they were dead last in the league last season in the share of possessions on which they grabbed a second chance).
There could be some interesting questions on the other end of the court, though. While Jordan has worked to improve as a back-line captain since coming into the league as a second-round pick out of Texas A&M in 2008, and earned All-Defensive First Team honors after the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, his final season in L.A. offered at least some suggestions that he might have slipped a step on that end of the court.
Jordan blocked just 2.4 percent of opponents’ 2-point field-goal attempts during his time on the court, half his career rate and by far the lowest mark of his 10 seasons as a Clipper. Opponents shot 63.9 percent at the basket on attempts where he was defending, according to Second Spectrum’s optical tracking data; that ranked him 36th among 42 players who defended at last four such shots per game. And the Clippers, who ranked just 19th in points allowed per possession last season, actually posted a better defensive rating with Jordan off the court (105.6 points allowed per 100 possessions in just over 1,500 minutes) than when he played (109 points-per-100 in just over 2,400 minutes).
Jordan might be just what the doctor ordered on both ends for the Mavericks: an elite finisher who can provide an organizing principle (and plenty of highlight-reel finishes) for their half-court offense, as well as a mistake-erasing paint patroller who can clean up the messes created by young guards on the perimeter, teaming with veterans Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews to return Dallas to respectability on the defensive end. He might also be a player with a sharply circumscribed offensive game who’s heavily dependent on his athleticism, who has logged a lot of miles over the past eight seasons — a shade over 22,000 total regular- and postseason minutes in the middle — and who could already be showing signs of a decline that will limit his effectiveness in the years to come.
By agreeing to a one-year deal, the Mavs limit their liability in the event that Jordan’s not what they’ve hoped he’d be for them. By securing the right to re-enter free agency next summer, Jordan’s ensured both that he doesn’t take too much of a haircut this year and that he’ll get the chance to secure an even bigger bag next summer if he proves he is everything they’ve hoped for.
And if he does, Dallas will enter the summer of 2019 with cap space to spare — Matthews’ $18.6 million deal comes off the books, leaving only Barnes (a $25.1 million player option) and reserve big man Dwight Powell ($10.2 million player option) with eight-figure-plus salaries on the ledger — to be able to re-up Jordan while also holding enough flexibility to take a run at another difference-making free agent in a class that could include a slew of them: Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson, Kevin Love, Al Horford, Kemba Walker, Paul Millsap, Marc Gasol, Goran Dragic, Khris Middleton, and more.
You’d be forgiven if you’re skeptical that Dallas will be able to land that big fish; for years, seemingly every time they’ve tried, they’ve been rebuffed. This time, though, the Mavs got their man. It took them three years, but if Jordan really can help lift them back into the postseason picture in a crowded West … well, better late than never, right?
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