In a stunning reversal that damages one franchise and puts another back in the championship chase, free agent center DeAndre Jordan backed out of a commitment to sign with the Dallas Mavericks and decided to return to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Jordan accepted a four-year, $80 million deal with Dallas on Friday but quickly started to regret the decision to leave the only organization he has played for during his seven-year career. Unable to sign a deal until Thursday because of the NBA moratorium on free agent contracts and trades, Jordan reached out to Clippers Coach Doc Rivers on Monday to express that he was having second thoughts.
Rivers then arranged for a contingent of Clippers executives and players — a group that reportedly included owner Steve Ballmer, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and free agent commit Paul Pierce — to go to Jordan’s Houston home Wednesday to make a last-ditch effort to convince Jordan to spurn the Mavericks and stay. To ensure that Jordan wouldn’t have another change of heart, the Clippers stayed at Jordan’s home until the third-team all-NBA center signed a four-year, $88 million contract with an option after the third year.
The signed pact ended a wacky day that included an emoji war on Twitter between Clippers players and Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons and several hours playing video games and cards at Jordan’s home.
Griffin at one point even tweeted a photo of a chair propped up against a door, purportedly at Jordan’s home — a post that generated about 50,000 retweets — as Jordan trended through Wednesday night on social media.
Dallas owner Mark Cuban wanted to make a final attempt to persuade Jordan to fulfill his commitment but was rebuffed.
Any agreement made during the eight-day moratorium is non-binding, but rarely do players back out of handshake deals because it would disrupt plans teams make throughout the league.
Certainly, no player of Jordan’s stature has made such a controversial move but it is not unprecedented. Hedo Turkoglu backed out of an agreement with Portland to sign with Toronto in 2009. Carlos Boozer had agreed to a contract extension with Cleveland but later signed a more lucrative deal with Utah in 2004. Cuban and the Mavericks went through a similar situation three years ago when Jason Kidd committed to a return before signing with New York.
Jordan initially left because of a strained relationship with Paul but he is especially close to Griffin, who remained in contact with his friend throughout the process. Paul traveled to Houston from a vacation in the Bahamas with buddies LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony and reportedly hashed out his differences with Jordan. Griffin cut short a vacation in Hawaii to help close the deal.
The Clippers would have made a precipitous fall in the Western Conference without Jordan in the lineup to serve as their defensive anchor. They also had no money to find a viable replacement in free agency and limited assets to acquire one via trade.
With Jordan staying, the Clippers remain one of the league’s top teams and a legitimate title contender.
The Mavericks’ offseason, however, has been wrecked. They also agreed to a four-year, $47-million deal with shooting guard Wesley Matthews with the expectation that he would join Jordan in helping the franchise transition whenever future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki retires. In an interview Friday that led to him receiving a $25,000 fine for publicly discussing the agreement, Cuban stated that he would’ve started a rebuilding effort if they were unable to snag Jordan. Five days later, Cuban lost out on Jordan but is stuck with a plan that now doesn’t include him.