DeAndre Jordan wouldn’t even let a reporter finish a question about his future before interrupting.
“I’m not a free agent until July,” Jordan said flatly Sunday evening.
Doc Rivers was equally antsy when Jordan’s name was mentioned, identifying keeping the Clippers center as his first priority this off-season in his dual role as coach and president of basketball operations.
“Can you tamper with your own guy?” Rivers asked after the Clippers’ season ended with a 113-100 loss to the Houston Rockets in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals at Toyota Center. “If that’s true, I want to go tamper right now.”
Keeping intact the core of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Jordan would require the Clippers to re-sign Jordan this summer, when a player who has blossomed into one of the league’s top defenders becomes an unrestricted free agent and could command a maximum salary.
Jordan indicated in March that he intended to sign a maximum-length contract instead of a one-year deal that would allow him to capitalize on the massive increase in the salary cap that is expected to take place in the summer of 2016, though he is certainly entitled to change his mind.
If Jordan agreed to a maximum five-year contract with the Clippers for an estimated $108.3 million, it would severely restrict the team’s ability to upgrade its bench, barring trades. That scenario would leave the Clippers with only the so-called mini-mid-level exception of $3.37 million per year for up to three years plus a slew of veteran’s minimum contracts.
“We have to get this team more support,” Rivers acknowledged after a season in which a spotty bench was a recurring issue. “With the contracts we’re hamstrung with, it’s going to be minimum deals for the most part. There are no big deals out there that we’re going to make, most likely.”
That would change should Jordan sign elsewhere, giving the Clippers the full mid-level of exception of $5.4 million per year for up to four years. Jordan would not divulge what factors he would weigh in making his decision.
“I’ve been here for seven years, so this is what I’m used to,” said Jordan, who has led the NBA in rebounding for two consecutive seasons and in field-goal percentage for three straight seasons. “But I’m not thinking about that, man. It’s still so fresh tonight. It’s tough.”
The Clippers could try to trade reserve forward-center Spencer Hawes after the worst season of his career but it wouldn’t give them any additional spending flexibility.
The Clippers have already committed $58.1 million in salary for next season. Paul ($21.4 million), Griffin ($18.9 million), J.J. Redick ($7.1 million), Hawes ($5.5 million) and C.J. Wilcox ($1.2 million) have guaranteed contracts. Jamal Crawford ($5.7 million) and Matt Barnes ($3.5 million) have partially guaranteed contracts.
Lester Hudson and Jordan Hamilton have non-guaranteed, minimum contracts for next season. The Clippers need to decide Hudson’s fate by mid-July but have until early January before Hamilton’s salary becomes fully guaranteed. The team also owes $1.4 million to waived players Carlos Delfino ($650,000), Jordan Farmar ($511,000) and Miroslav Raduljica ($252,000).
In addition to Jordan, the Clippers will have to make decisions about five other unrestricted free agents: Austin Rivers, Glen Davis, Hedo Turkoglu, Ekpe Udoh and Dahntay Jones. They cannot offer Rivers more than the $3.1 million option the New Orleans Pelicans declined on him last fall.
The Clippers do not have a draft pick this season because their first-round selection is going to Boston as part of Doc Rivers’ agreement to leave the Celtics and their second-round pick is headed to Denver to complete a 2009 trade for center Cheikh Samb.
Rivers indicated a strong preference for keeping at least his star players around.
“Teams that have stuck it out, on the long run if you look at sports history, have done better than teams that have blown it up,” Rivers said. “We’re really close, clearly. It might be a defensive guy; it might be one more guy. I don’t know yet.”
Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.