DeAndre’s Dwindling L.A. Days

The one player everyone wants is DeAndre Jordan and it’s no surprise. He is 6-11. He rebounds in double digits. He blocks shots. He keeps rebounds in play with the tip out. He defends pick and roll and scores in pick and roll. He has never had a defensive rating over 107 and that was in his rookie year. His offensive rating this year is his second highest, 126. He misses Chris Paul and needs to be with a team with a pick and roll point guard. But he does so many things at the rim, whatever offense he gives you is gravy.

He is the last Clipper standing. He was drafted in 2008, a year before Blake Griffin and three and a half years before Chris Paul landed in the Clippers orbit. He was in the Derrick Rose draft class. That draft didn’t quite turn out like everyone expected. Derrick Rose was a number one pick MVP but then injuries wrecked his perfect legacy. Number two pick Michael Beasley was immature. O.J. Mayo is out the league because he was immature too. He was the third pick. At number four was last year’s MVP, Russell Westbrook, who on draft day was considered a project with speed at point guard. Number five was the player the Cavs love to hate, Kevin Love.

Thirty picks later was DeAndre Jordan which makes him a success story, a second round pick who earned a max contract and will be coveted this offseason. You can argue all you want that Chris Paul made DeAndre Jordan what he is and that Doc Rivers pushed Jordan to another level altogether, but it is irrelevant who gets the credit. Jordan thrived with extraordinary mentors and coaches and in Paul’s case a forever critic. It led him to be an All-Star last year and being toasted in free agent meetings this year. Defensive players with high athleticism who can cover as much ground as Jordan can are game changers. There aren’t that many of them.

During his summer league play in 2008, Draft Express said this:

Jordan may never develop into a star that many people pegged him as but the rookie looks to have a very promising career as a rotation big, at the least.

In many ways Jordan has been underappreciated in his Los Angeles career because the town isn’t much for what happens on defense. It is tailor made for glitzy, splashy, dominant offensive players, those rare special people who can create their own shot, finish at the rim, win games in the last two minutes and/or perform high flying, megafantastic dunks that make people not want to close their mouths. Jordan is really none of that. Though a dominant dunker who can be electric at times, he just doesn’t move the needle like his teammate Blake Griffin did or even Shannon Brown did for the Lakers back in the day.

Jordan is known for what he cannot do, his failures. His free throw shooting has always been his worst attribute on the court and there really is no rhyme or reason for his makes and his misses. Shaquille O’Neal, a notorious horrible free throw shooter, made them when they counted, when everything was on the line. Jordan isn’t that organic. It just depends.

But with Doc peppering Jordan with stories of Kevin Garnett and how Jordan needed to be just like him, it only fazed Chris Paul all those misses. Doc rarely kept Jordan off the floor, wanting him to play through it. In the absence of dictator Chris, Jordan has a career high in free throws but the caveat is he’s not taking as many without Chris’ pick and roll game making life so easy. The Clippers guards struggle finding Jordan. The game isn’t as easy as it used to be. He has taken more shots this year but is making fewer of them. For the first time in four years, his 2-point percentage is below 70%. But his 14.9 rebounds is near identical to his career high of 15.0 rebounds three years ago. He’s not blocking shots like he used to do and that’s the first sign of age for big men. Add to that his turnovers are up this season and it’s the first time in four years he hasn’t had a 20.0+ PER.

All of that is interesting. But it doesn’t really matter to Portland or Cleveland or the Wizards, all of whom are desperate for the intangibles that Jordan brings. More than likely he goes nowhere in the short, short term. The Clippers haven’t been happy with what they are getting back. They seem okay with the idea of getting nothing for Jordan come July 1.

It seems pretty likely he is gone from the Clippers after this season and after ten years. It is a complicated answer: will Los Angeles miss DeAndre? Yes, because big men have a history of being a staple here. DeAndre was the third wheel in Lob City but he made it work, he made all of Chris Paul’s talents and Blake Griffin’s athleticism far from ordinary and relevant in six playoff trips.

No one will forget the emoji circus when DeAndre said he was leaving L.A. for Dallas. It further elevated his image of a goofy, not quite mature, impulsive kid who just wants to have fun. In that moment of a mistake he had to be walked back from, he was relatable in a way Chris and Blake could never be. But now he is all alone, by himself, the last one of the Clippers big three. He has experienced everything, from Donald Sterling to playoff choke jobs, to the tao of Doc, to rebuilding. After ten years, it’s not crazy that he wants more.

It’s also not crazy that teams want him right now. And in July.