“JJ Redick is being mobilized,” Yahoo! Sports’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted on the afternoon of July 8.
Mobilized? It sounded a little dramatic, but such was the case with the DeAndre Jordan saga, playfully called “The Indecision”.
In a shocking change of mind, Jordan reneged on his verbal commitment to join the Dallas Mavericks, letting down owner Mark Cuban, forward and friend Chandler Parsons, as well as the entire fan base. And it wasn’t just the fact that Jordan changed his mind — he actually had every right to do so. It was the fact that he handled it so immaturely. In returning to the Los Angeles Clippers, Jordan sent the entire league into a frenzy for a day.
Sure, it was entertaining; downright hilarious, actually, but it speaks to a greater issue with Jordan. We could sit here and talk all day about how disrespectful and childish it was for Jordan to ignore texts and phone calls from both Cuban and Parsons, or how he had Redick, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul hang out with him, order pizza and play video games and cards until Jordan officially signed his contract to return to Los Angeles. But we won’t. For me, there’s something greater at play than just an indictment of how Jordan handled his free agency: it’s his entire legacy as a player.
Chandler Parsons spoke to ESPN candidly about the Jordan situation, with the honesty and poignancy of not just a disappointed player and friend, but of a fan of the game:
“He’s complacent in L.A., and I think that was a safer bet than for him to make a big decision and branch off and go do his own thing. He was probably nervous. He was probably scared. I don’t know because I haven’t talked to him. He’s a good dude. I don’t think he’s a bad person for this. I think he’s just confused. This decision was just way too big for him and he wasn’t ready to be a franchise player.”
He wasn’t ready to be a franchise player. The Mavericks were about to pay someone $20 million per year to not be a franchise player. Jordan averaged 11 points per game and led the league in rebounds at 15 per game last season in Los Angeles. He also led the league in field goal percentage, at 71 percent. Parsons and Cuban sold Jordan on being something more than that, the cornerstone of their franchise, someone who could elevate his game and become more than just a dunk machine and lob catcher.
But part of Jordan’s change of heart really did seem to be about shying away from that challenge. For the entire 2014-2015 season, 69 percent of his points were assisted and 27 percent were off of offensive rebounds, per NBA.com. In other words, Jordan created for himself only four percent of the time. Those are far from franchise center numbers.
But, that really isn’t a bad thing, if you play on the Clippers with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, two of the ten best players in the NBA. Parsons was absolutely right; Jordan wasn’t ready to take the next step in his career. And, I’m almost sorry to say it, but he never will be.
Jordan will turn 27 in two weeks, and for a center who relies as much on his athleticism as Jordan does, his athletic, peak vertical and flat out physically dominating prime will be over in just a couple of years, coincidentally when Griffin’s contract expires. Even if Griffin were to leave Los Angeles, allowing Jordan to take on more of a load, how much time does that really leave him? And what can he really do with declining athleticism?
Jordan is more than happy to be third fiddle to Paul and Griffin. He catches lobs, finishes hard, rebounds hard, blocks shots and shoots an abysmal 40 percent from the free throw line. These are all traits of a content third option. Make no mistake, Lob City is exhilarating to watch, but I can’t help but fault Jordan for not wanting greatness. In reality, Parsons wanted it more for him than he did.
We’re berating Jordan for the ‘how’ of he handled his decision, but what about the ‘what’ of it all? He willingly accepted a ceiling on his greatness. He wants help, he wants to be coddled; his decision told us, “No, I cannot be the number one guy on a team. I cannot be your Shaquille O’Neal.”
Is that really so fine? We hounded LeBron for choosing to go to Miami with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in 2010, citing how it damaged LeBron’s legacy as a superstar. But he won. And then won again. He shut us up.
We all thought that LeBron was putting a ceiling on his own greatness, but he wasn’t- he was just accepting what he truly wanted: someone (in this case, two) to bail him out when he couldn’t do it all. He took control of that Miami team, maybe not in the way that he made Miami his city (it will always be Wade’s kingdom), but he was undoubtedly their best player.
He rose far beyond superstardom in Miami and allowed his team to shore up his weaknesses. Comparing Jordan and LeBron is a bit ridiculous, I’ll admit, but the principle is the same- they both (fairly) received criticism for accepting a limit on what they could be; LeBron erased his.
What Jordan wants is to spin off of a pick-and-roll and catch a lob. What he does not want is to have to spin off of a defender and dunk it himself. Who knows, maybe he will want that one day, but by then, it may be too late. In the end, this indecision was about more than just the disrespect and immaturity; it was about a Third Team All-NBA center making the choice to never be more than that.
Sure, LeBron was already the best player in the world when he made his decision, but DeAndre Jordan could have been the best center in the NBA. Now, not only does he have the burden of hatred on his back, he also has a looming what-if on the entirety of his career. But despite all of this, Jordan still has a saving grace, the same saving grace that LeBron had: winning. None of this will hold much weight if Jordan wins a title as a Clipper this season; it’s just a shame that he won’t be the one leading them to it.