Los Angeles Clippers' center DeAndre Jordan might as well move into a home on the trade block, because he's been camped out there for far too long.
The Clippers tried to swap Jordan and a couple draft picks for Boston Celtics’ coach Doc Rivers and star big man Kevin Garnett over the offseason, but the NBA disallowed the trade and eventually placed an embargo on all Clippers-Celtics negotiations for the rest of the year.
The Clips ended up with their desired coach anyway, but Jordan still found that his name was squarely on the market.
Debate surfaced all over ClipperLand. Should the Clippers trade their starting center?
But there is an inherent flaw in the pro-trade circle’s logic: the Clippers probably can't upgrade at the center position.
Kevin Garnett isn’t an option anymore after packing up and heading to Brooklyn. Neither is any other big man who could help the Clippers more than Jordan can.
We hear the question regarding big men all the time: When does a project become a finished product?
We hear it about JaVale McGee. We hear it about Bismack Biyombo. We heard it about Serge Ibaka. We’re going to hear it about Nerlens Noel and Rudy Gobert.
The inquiry is all too pervasive.
Fans don't know how to react to untapped potential in a massive, athletic freak of nature. Instead of evaluating, we forecast, and if it takes that giant man some time to learn how to control his body inside his massive frame, we lose patience.
DeAndre Jordan is a victim of that public mentality.
Now, though, the Clippers have put themselves in a position in which he has to produce this season. With Byron Mullens, Antawn Jamison and Ryan Hollins as Jordan's immediate backups, the sixth-year center is the only potential big on the roster who can provide decent rim protection in starter’s minutes.
Jordan is physically capable of becoming that dominant defensive anchor. There aren’t many 6'11" centers with a 7'6" wingspan and the sort of athleticism that Jordan possesses. Physically, he’s the prototype. It’s the more mental part of the game with which Jordan has struggled.
Even with all of the criticism of Jordan over the past few years, consider this: He has never had the opportunity to garner playing time in a controlled, legitimate defensive system. This upcoming season will be Jordan’s sixth in the NBA, but D.J. didn’t start to play real minutes until his third year. That was when Vinny Del Negro took over as Clippers coach.
The Clippers never put together a true defensive system under Del Negro. There was no consistency, no identity. The Clippers defense adjusted to its opponents' offense, not the other way around.
The Clippers were defensive chameleons, and while flexibility can absolutely be a positive, a team can’t dominate defensively on a night-in, night-out basis without having some core principles on which it can fall back.
Every. Single. Game.
Now, Doc Rivers is coming and he’s here to make everything better. For the first time in his career, Jordan has a system within which he can play.
Rivers’ defense needs a dominant big man in the middle. If there’s anything we’ve learned from today’s elite defenses, it’s that a top-tier, defensive center can clean up a bunch of messes. Just ask the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls or Memphis Grizzlies.
If the Clippers trade Jordan, what is there to get back?
Could they get another strong defensive wing? Sure. Could they get another center who is being pushed out of his current town? Maybe. But ultimately, the Clippers need a high-ceiling center controlling their defense, because if that presence isn’t there, a championship will be far too elusive.
For that job, Jordan is the best man.
The criticism of Jordan is fair. He does miss free throws. He is an anxious defender who bites on too many pump fakes and hedges too much on pick-and-rolls. He doesn’t have a consistent post game on offense.
Those critiques are legitimate. They’re all true. But in some ways, they are misused in evaluating the 25-year-old talent.
We assume Jordan didn’t play during crunch time last year because of those negative traits, but that wasn’t necessarily the case. Actually, Jordan could have played in crunch time if Del Negro had just shown some trust in his youthful center.
Jordan sat on the bench and had to watch Ronny Turiaf, Ryan Hollins or Lamar Odom play in his place down the stretch of close games last season. We kept hearing about the poor free-throw shooting and how that kills a team late in close games, but ultimately, Jordan’s late-game benchings weren’t because of his dreadful 38.6 percent free-throw percentage.
If Del Negro wanted to, he could have played Jordan in the final two minutes of fourth quarters, when deck-a-D.J. would no longer be in play. Jordan barely ever goes to the free-throw line and would make even fewer trips to the charity stripe in the final minutes, when the Clippers never run plays for him.
It's counterintuitive, but in reality, the Clippers were better when Jordan played with the closers last season.
Los Angeles’ most common closing lineup in 2012-13 was comprised of Chris Paul, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Griffin and Odom. That lineup outscored opponents by 7.5 points per 100 possessions while on the floor together.
Now, take Odom out and replace him with Jordan. The strategy the Clippers employed last year implies that Jordan's crunch-time lineup wouldn’t be a successful one.
But think again.
The Paul-Crawford-Barnes-Griffin-Jordan lineup outscored opponents by an outrageous 22.6 points per 100 possessions last season. To put that in perspective, that was the second-best net rating for any NBA lineup with at least 145 minutes played last year.
Coach Rivers and assistant coach Tyronn Lue bring in a new defensive philosophy and because of that, the Clippers won’t use Jordan the same way this year. They’re banking on him taking the leap—at least defensively. Without a dominant defensive big man to back him up, L.A. is depending on its center too much to let him go.
So maybe the Clippers shouldn’t shop Jordan. Maybe it’s something they never should have done.
Maybe the only thing DeAndre Jordan has needed all along was a fair shot.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.