If you believe the rumors, this whole DeAndre Jordan free agency disaster movie was a direct result of his fractured relationship with Chris Paul. However overblown those accusations may have been, there was obviously a kernel of truth there. Like Kobe Bryant, CP3 is a maniacal and myopic competitor, and like Kobe, former teammates have had similar things to say about him: he’s demanding, he’s combative, he never stops chirping, ad infinitum.
That kind of thing can wear you down. It obviously got bad enough for DeAndre to agree to a long-term contract elsewhere before a caravan of Clippers circled their wagons around his house and Shanghaied him back to Los Angeles. For his part, Paul has done his best to dismiss rumors of any disconnect between the two. Via Justin Verrier of ESPN.com:
“DeAndre’s like my big little brother,” Paul said before the first annual Players’ Awards at the Penn & Teller theater at the Rio Las Vegas. “We talk a lot more than people ever realize. But it doesn’t matter [what people say]. The only thing that matters is that he’s back.”
Infantalizing someone of Jordan’s stature like that probably isn’t the best way to endear yourself to him, especially when your relationship was already on the rocks. Paul, in the past, has taken no small exception to being “sonned” (remember when Pau Gasol rubbed his head like he was some sort of adorable little basketball-playing baby?). But he at least deserves the benefit of the doubt that his heart was in the right place, even if he subconsciously couldn’t resist the urge to remind everyone that he’s the alpha of the pack.
But there was another, overlooked aspect of this situation that went beyond interpersonal issues and still hasn’t been adequately addressed, at least not publicly. At the outset, Jordan and his camp were vocal about the fact that he wanted to be more involved in the offense. That’s at least partially what drew him to Dallas in the first place. Mark Cuban and company made it clear that they would give him what he wanted in that department. They even went so far as to (shamelessly and absurdly) call him “Shaq-like.” Decide for yourself whether they were referring to his free throw shooting.
It’s unclear whether Doc Rivers had to make any similar promises to Jordan for the coming season. Jordan has never been a focal point on offense for the Clippers. The only plays they ever run for him are lob passes off the pick-and-roll. The rest are garbage points since he still has little-to-no post game to speak of.
It seems like the trick to keeping Jordan happy will be getting him to buy in and see the bigger picture. The Paul Pierce signing (three years, $10 million) should aid that process. Nobody knows better what it means to sacrifice for the greater good of the team. It’s precisely what he, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen had to do for the sake of success in Boston. Perhaps that’s the insight he offered to Jordan during this whole debacle.
“I kind of sat in and voiced what I thought,” Pierce said. “But I was on the outside looking in. I think guys really cleared the air if there was any tension, but a lot of the media made it more than it really was from what I saw. But it was good just to have the main guys who are going to be the main voices on this team in one room. It was really good. Hopefully it can be the start of something special.”
Since Rivers arrived in Los Angeles, he’s likened Jordan to Garnett. He even talked Jordan into assuming KG’s habit of swatting away any shots opponents try to take after a whistle. If Pierce can continue to nurture that type of intensity in Jordan and help transform him into a true defensive anchor, rather than a nominal one, who’s also content to let his offense come where it may, the Clippers might finally have the type of cohesiveness that gets them past the second round of the playoffs.