Less than a week after suffering the most devastating defection in franchise history, the Clippers have stunningly, nuttily, filled the giant hole left by DeAndre Jordan.
They replaced him with DeAndre Jordan.
You can’t make this stuff up.
In the same city where they recently suffered the NBA’s biggest collapse, the Clippers pulled off the league’s biggest comeback Wednesday after their owner, coach and key players descended upon Houston, stormed Jordan’s home and convinced their invaluable center to renege on a verbal agreement to sign with the Dallas Mavericks and remain a Clipper.
It was a Twitter fight turned full-court press turned slumber party, with the Clippers taunting the Mavericks with the creative use of travel emojis, and then arriving for an afternoon meeting that became a late-night card game, then refusing to leave while the Mavericks figuratively had their noses pressed against the window.
When the day began, Jordan was hours from leaving his seven-year NBA home and signing an $80-million contract with a Mavericks team that was offering him more offense, more spotlight, and the absence of irritant Chris Paul.
When the day ended, Jordan had changed his mind and was staying put, signing an $87-million deal with a Clippers team that surrounded him with Doc Rivers’ promises of offense, Paul’s profession of love, and hugs from everyone from Blake Griffin to J.J. Redick to … new guy Paul Pierce?
Hey D.J., I don’t really know you, but I’m here to tell you The Truth!
It’s crazy, it’s largely unprecedented in the world of NBA free agency, but forgive the Clippers for not caring, because it’s also downright season-changing, a July intervention that gives them a chance at a June parade.
For once, the Clipper Curse pivoted, and pivoted hard.
One moment, they were without a center and without hope, the NBA’s biggest off-season disappointment. Now they are among the NBA’s biggest off-season winners, retaining their rim protector and rebounder while adding potential star Lance Stephenson and ring-bearing veteran Pierce.
One moment, they projected to be a fifth or sixth seed, staring down at a season wasted, pondering a trade of Griffin or Paul to begin rebuilding. And now, well, remember last season they finished with the second-best record in the mighty Western Conference and within a dozen minutes of playing in the conference finals? They should be better than that. They should challenge defending champion Golden State and loaded San Antonio for conference supremacy and who knows what else.
Make no mistake, the Clippers should have gotten it right the first time. They initially lost him to Dallas with an apparently lackadaisical pitch last week that included no players but plenty of Jamie Foxx. The Clippers shouldn’t have taken Jordan’s return for granted, or seemingly dismissed the rift with Paul, who initially couldn’t be bothered to fly back from a Bahamas vacation to make nice with a player who is vital to his fading championship hopes.
The Clippers still have some sort of internal issue that kept Jordan from agreeing to sign with them last week, perhaps the same issue that led to this spring’s debacle against the Houston Rockets, and that will have to be addressed. Jordan’s place on this team, and his relationship with its floor leader, could still lead to season-long drama. But at least the Clippers will have their Big Three together again while they’re figuring it out.
There will be much chattering in Dallas — and among Lakers fans — about broken promises and bad ethics and lost honor. Please, people. Jordan never signed anything with the Mavericks. He verbally agreed, but because of the NBA’s moratorium on free-agent signings until Thursday, both he and the Mavericks knew that agreement officially meant nothing.
It has long been an unwritten rule that teams and players honor those verbal agreements, but while Jordan might be the most celebrated player to break that rule, he cannot be faulted for realizing his mistake and fixing it before putting pen to paper. The average basketball fan can see that his talents will be better utilized as a Clipper than a Maverick. And the Clippers cannot be faulted for continuing to pursue him as if their title hopes depended on it. Here’s guessing owner Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft boss, probably has little patience for old-school rules.
None of which figures to stop Mavericks owner Mark Cuban from soon saying something that will rack up an NBA fine equal to the national debt.
The wheels on this deal began moving in reverse Monday, when Jordan apparently contacted both close friend Griffin and Rivers with buyer’s remorse. At the time, the Clippers were drowning in criticism over their failure to re-sign their young star, everywhere from this column to the echoed words of Redick in a Bleacher Report Radio interview during which he openly gave the team’s off-season grade an “F-minus.”
“Listen, we had one priority this summer and that was to re-sign D.J. and we missed out on that,” Redick said, “so barring some miracle, [the] makeup of our team is completely different now.”
If there is an unsung hero in this rescue, perhaps it was Redick, who spoke as if he was challenging the Clippers to make that miracle happen. Whatever the reason, the minute Rivers heard from Jordan, he and Ballmer summoned the players from near and far and requested their presence in Houston for Wednesday’s last-ditch effort as the Mavericks were making the same trip.
How did everyone get there? One could just read their Twitter feeds in what quickly became a battle of the emojis.
Chandler Parsons of the Mavericks began by tweeting the drawing of an airplane. Redick, bragging that he was closer, countered with a drawing of a car.
Griffin, who was coming from Hawaii, tweeted a drawing of an airplane, helicopter and car. Paul, who had been seen riding a banana boat with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in the Bahamas, then tweeted the drawing of a banana and a boat. Pierce, apparently unable or unwilling to mess with those darn emojis, simply tweeted a photo of a rocket ship.
Apropos of nothing, Kobe Bryant then got into the act by tweeting drawings of five trophies, pretty much shutting everyone up, that spoilsport.
By Wednesday afternoon, all the Clippers had descended upon Jordan’s home, where reportedly Jordan quickly ended the drama by telling them he was changing his mind and remaining a Clipper. At that point, they reportedly all settled in to play cards and keep Jordan occupied until the post-midnight signing period, while the Mavericks’ calls and texts went unanswered.
Griffin tweeted a photo of a chair wedged against a door just in case their message was not clear, then later tweeted a photo of a backyard tent.
When the drama had finally concluded late Wednesday night, Paul posted an Instagram photo of he and Jordan hugging, yet it was tagged with an Edgar Allan Poe quote that may somewhat question the image — “Believe only half of what you see, and nothing that you hear.”
It was the strange and perfect ending to a day that was pretty much unbelievable.
FOR THE RECORD
July 9, 10:50 a.m.: An earlier version of this article misspelled Edgar Allan Poe’s middle name as Allen.