Lob City lost one of its most prominent residents Friday when free-agent center DeAndre Jordan agreed to leave the Clippers for the Dallas Mavericks, spurning the only NBA team he had known to begin a new chapter in his career.
Jordan committed to the Mavericks for four years and $80 million, with an opportunity to opt out after the third year, after being wowed by the team's presentation this week and the relentless wooing of new teammates Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews.
“We think he is going to be our best player for years to come,” Mavericks owner Mark Cuban triumphantly told reporters. “A franchise player for the rest of his career.”
Jordan, who turns 27 this month, cannot officially sign with Dallas until Thursday, when the league's moratorium on formal commitments ends. His decision to join the Mavericks means he will return to the state where he was born and played collegiately at Texas A&M.
Jordan picking the Mavericks also signaled his desire to be a focal point of his team's offense and served as confirmation of his soured relationship with longtime Clippers teammate Chris Paul, who verbally belittled Jordan during one game last season and frantically yelled at him during another when Jordan failed to get off a shot in the final second.
Jordan's representatives suggested a clear-the-air dinner meeting between Jordan and Paul to Rivers but it never materialized. Paul is currently on vacation in the Bahamas.
Paul spoke with Jordan for about 25 minutes last weekend and corresponded with him again Monday, his efforts failing to sway Jordan to stay with the team with which he ascended from second-round draft pick in 2008 to NBA all-defensive first team last season.
One person close to Jordan said he was more impressed by the recruiting efforts of Nowitzki, who came off vacation to join the Mavericks contingent that held a dinner meeting with Jordan and later outlined its plans for him during a more formal 21/2-hour presentation. No Clippers players attended the team's pitch meeting Thursday.
The Clippers tried to sell Jordan on increased marketing opportunities as well as his potential to thrive as part of a roster bolstered by the recent acquisitions of Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson. But Coach Doc Rivers' attempts to mend Jordan's relationship with Paul, as well as the coach's ability to shape Jordan into one of the NBA's top defenders and rebounders, were not sufficient.
Rivers had expressed confidence that Jordan would come back after the Clippers were eliminated from the playoffs in May — “D.J. loves it here,” Rivers said at the time — but acknowledged there were no assurances after a season in which Jordan led the NBA in rebounding (15.0 per game) and field-goal percentage (.710).
Had Jordan come back, the Clippers would have been considered strong contenders in the Western Conference; with his departure their prospects take a significant hit even with All-Stars Paul and Blake Griffin still under contract.
The Clippers are left with limited options to replace Jordan because of their financial constraints related to the salary cap. They have as much as $2 million left to spend on a free agent after committing three years and $10.5 million to Pierce.
The team could dangle sixth man Jamal Crawford in an attempt to trade for a center such as Indiana's Roy Hibbert, though that particular scenario would necessitate the inclusion of additional Clippers players to satisfy trade salary requirements, or possibly convince Dallas to work out a complex multi-team trade with the Pacers, with Jordan moving to the Mavericks via a sign-and-trade agreement with Jordan.
The Clippers might be forced to pluck from an underwhelming pool of free agents that has already thinned considerably, leaving, among others, Kosta Koufos, Kevin Seraphin, Amare Stoudemire and Kendrick Perkins.
Another option would be for the Clippers to turn to a small-ball approach by utilizing Griffin and Pierce as their big men and Stephenson as their small forward, though the sustainability of that strategy over an entire NBA season seemed doubtful.
The Clippers appear in need of multiple big men because Griffin is their only power forward or center under contract for next season. Griffin took batting practice at Dodger Stadium on Saturday but declined to comment when asked about Jordan's decision to leave the Clippers.
Spencer Rivers, one of Doc Rivers' sons, was not as restrained in his comments on Twitter.
“If true I don't see why someone signs with a team that might not make playoffs and have 0% chance of winning a championship,” Spencer Rivers, who plays for UC Irvine, tweeted. “Hope he does well and of course I'm mad he left lol am I supposed to be happy…”
Happy or not, Paul and Griffin have entered a new era without the high-flying and seemingly injury-proof teammate who had never missed a game since Paul's arrival in December 2011. Lob City felt a whole lot emptier after its population decreased by only one.
Times staff writer Helene Elliott contributed to this report.