In the aftermath of clumsily changing his mind about signing with the Dallas Mavericks in 2015, DeAndre Jordan fired his agent. That was hardly the surprising part; his decision to leave the Los Angeles Clippers for Dallas, only to back out of the deal, was a train wreck from start to finish.
What was really weird was that Jordan didn't sign with a new agent until this week, more than two years later.
Changing agents is nothing new in the NBA, especially for Jordan, who had employed three different agencies to represent him in contract negotiations in his first seven seasons. When he fired Dan Fegan in 2015, whose cozy relationship with Mavs owner Mark Cuban cast a shadow over the initial decision to sign with Dallas, Jordan was required by players association rules to wait 15 days to hire a new one.
"He was deciding between Jeff [Schwartz] and Rich Paul," a person familiar with Jordan's thinking told Bleacher Report. "I had heard back then that he was 100 percent signing with Jeff."
Then, nothing. Crickets.
Schwartz, of Excel Sports Management, is the most prolific agent in the business with 40 NBA clients commanding more than $400 million in annual salary, according to HoopsHype.com. Ten of them are All-Stars, and seven are on max contracts, according to the site.
Paul, of Klutch Sports Group, represents the most famous player on the planet, LeBron James, as well as John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Ben Simmons and others.
Over the next two seasons, the Clippers won 53 and 51 games, respectively, but were bounced from the playoffs in the first round both years. Just days before the 2017 draft, the team hired legendary executive Jerry West as a consultant. Less than 10 days later, All-Star Chris Paul was granted his wish and traded to the Houston Rockets to team up with ball-dominant scoring machine James Harden.
The Clippers' core of Jordan, Paul and Blake Griffin had run its course. No other team in NBA history had won at least 60 percent of its games for six straight seasons without advancing to the conference finals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In fact, Paul ventured to Houston with the ignominious distinction of accumulating an NBA-record 76 postseason games without advancing past the conference semifinals, according to Elias.
Now, the Clippers are 8-15, Patrick Beverley (acquired in the Paul trade) is out for the year following knee surgery, and Griffin could be out until late January with a sprained knee. With the front office-coaching tandem of president Lawrence Frank and coach Doc Rivers under scrutiny and the roster at a crossroads, it's no wonder Jordan decided the time was right to agent-up again, finally signing with Schwartz.
"He needs one," the person familiar with Jordan's thinking told B/R. "It's smart."
After the season, Jordan can opt out of the four-year, $87.6 million deal he signed with the Clippers in 2015. And with the Clippers situated precariously in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, numerous teams have inquired about Jordan's availability as the February trade deadline approaches.
Both are scenarios that Jordan, 29, would be ill-suited to navigate without an agent.
"It's so hard to know otherwise what's going on," a person who advises several NBA stars told B/R. "I look at it like this: If you play for a team, is the team ever really going to tell you, 'We're trying to trade you?' How do you get a guy to buy in after that?"
During ancient NBA times, coaches and executives had all the power, and contract negotiations were one-sided.
"At one point, that's the only way it was done," an Eastern Conference GM told B/R. "Red Auerbach would come into the room and tell the player, 'This is what we're going to do,' and that was it."
In the modern NBA, star players—and, by association, their agents—have all the power. But sometimes, that power requires some finesse. In Jordan's case, his trade value is clouded by his looming $24.1 million player option for the 2018-19 season.
"If a team's trying to trade for you, they're going to want some kind of commitment if they're going to give away significant pieces," the adviser said. "How do you do that without an agent involved?"
Among the teams "kicking the tires hard" on Jordan's availability in a trade, according to a Western Conference executive, are the Milwaukee Bucks. Having added Bledsoe to a rising young core that includes Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, the Bucks are an intriguing potential destination. According to the Western Conference executive, Milwaukee is intent on adding size and rebounding at the trade deadline.
Jordan would provide both, and the Bucks have the pieces to get a deal done. They also have something else that should not be underestimated: head coach Jason Kidd's close ties to Jordan's agent.
Schwartz represented Kidd for much of his Hall of Fame playing career and helped broker his exit from the Brooklyn Nets head coaching job to join the Bucks in 2014. Though Schwartz is forbidden by National Basketball Players Association regulations from representing players and coaches—regulations that NBPA executive director Michele Roberts has made it a priority to enforce—there is no legislating against decades-old friendships. Two teams told B/R that the Kidd-Schwartz-Jordan ties give the Bucks a distinct advantage if the Clippers decide to move the 6'11" center at the deadline.
But the other side of this potential trade equation is equally interesting, if not more so. Danilo Gallinari returned Wednesday night from a 13-game absence with a glute strain, and Milos Teodosic (plantar fascia injury) is expected back soon. If the Clippers can keep from collapsing until Griffin comes back, they may not be in sell mode at the deadline, after all.
Then again, that all depends on who, exactly, will be making that call. Owner Steve Ballmer didn't hire West and reportedly pay him $4 million to $5 million a year, according to USA Today's Sam Amick, to sit on the sideline and watch.
"It's definitely a feeling-out year," a person familiar with the team's dynamics told B/R. "It's fine now; they have their roster. But at the trade deadline, who has the juice in the room? Whose say goes? That will be the part that will be telling."
These are things that Jordan no longer has to concern himself with; that's his agent's job. Will Schwartz be his last? History says no. But at least he has one when he needs one.
Ken Berger covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KBergNBA.