DeAndre Jordan’s facial muscles didn’t get much time to relax this week.
The Clippers center spent a hearty portion of his first experience with Team USA grinning widely, whether it was during a conversation with Coach Mike Krzyzewski, some ribbing with buddy-turned-antagonist Chandler Parsons or post-practice free throws with fellow centers Dwight Howard, DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond.
You could say Jordan is just happy to be here, though he would certainly be happier to be there next summer as part of the team headed to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympics.
“It’s fun to be thought about as a guy that they would consider to have a shot at the national team,” Jordan said. “It’s something that we all dream about when we’re kids — winning the gold medal and that stuff. That’s the highest and just to be a part of that and have that chance is cool.”
Jordan’s chances appear somewhat iffy given that you seemingly couldn’t go 10 feet on the Strip this week without running into an All-Star or a former gold medalist — designations that Jordan has not achieved in his seven-year NBA career. He did recently add a few impressive lines to his resume when he was selected to the NBA’s first-team defense and picked as the league’s third-team center.
Jordan also mimicked some of the game’s biggest stars by skipping the voluntary USA Basketball Showcase on Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul were among the 20 players on the 34-man roster who opted out of the event, leaving the Clippers’ Blake Griffin as arguably the biggest remaining draw.
Griffin looked like it for much of the second half of his White Team’s 134-128 victory over the Blue Team, driving around Kenneth Faried for a one-handed dunk and later taking a pass off the backboard from Michael Carter-Williams for a windmill dunk. Griffin scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half to go with seven rebounds and four assists.
Griffin and Paul, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, would figure to be near-locks to make the final 12-man Olympic roster. Jordan’s bid appears to be tougher, in part because he will have to beat out a few of the aforementioned centers and in part because of the rise of small-ball lineups in which Griffin or James, among others, could serve as the biggest players on the court.
Jordan said he doesn’t see his size as a drawback, particularly when it has helped him become the NBA’s leading rebounder for two consecutive seasons and one of its leading shot-blockers.
“I feel like I can do whatever they need me to do,” Jordan said. “I can be a big man and just grab rebounds, I can play defense. Everybody’s different, man. There’s so many different players on this team that do different things. I don’t think that me being 6-[foot]-11 is going to hurt me at all.”
Part of the reason the smiles came so easily for Jordan this week was the opportunity to get back to basketball after a wild summer in which he committed to the Dallas Mavericks before backing out five days later and re-signing with the Clippers during one of the most polarizing reversals in league history.
Jordan was celebrated by Clippers fans and scorned pretty much everywhere else. But he has apparently patched things up with Parsons, the Mavericks forward who was his team’s lead recruiter in its pursuit of Jordan. The players shared a laugh Wednesday and Jordan described everything as “cool” between them.
Jordan spent part of one practice banking in mid-range jumpers and chuckled when asked if Griffin, known for bank shots, had a hand in him using that method. Will Jordan be taking more shots from outside the paint to expand his arsenal after saying he wanted to be a bigger part of the offense?
“I don’t know, man,” Jordan said. “We’ll see what happens.”
Just like with his status for Rio de Janeiro.