DeAndre Jordan's Deal Just One of Many Difficult Choices Looming for Clippers

Fred Katz@@FredKatzFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2015

Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, left, dunks the ball as Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 16, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Cavaliers won 126-121. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

DeAndre Jordan's contract situation could put the Los Angeles Clippers in an awkward position this summer.

Jordan's four-year, $43 million deal runs out at the end of the season, and Doc Rivers will have a serious decision to make: Keep DeAndre or let him walk.

It comes down to exactly how the Clippers organization values Jordan's game. Do Jordan's occasional defensive lapses mean he's not worth the big money he'll likely earn on the open market? Does his around-the-rim style make him something short of the ideal offensive complement to Blake Griffin's paint-heavy game?

The defensive-minded center is averaging 10.1 points, a league-leading 13.4 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game during his seventh NBA season and holds the NBA's longest current consecutive games-played streak.

Even with his all-dunks reputation, Jordan actually has more offensive value than people tend to acknowledge. 

He's a force in the pick-and-roll with his dives to the hoop, he eats up offensive boards like few others, and—on a related note—he's become the NBA's best back-tapper (and arguably best overall rebounder).

His career path is becoming similar to that of Tyson Chandler, something many have been hoping would happen for some time. And like Chandler, he could be an essential piece to a championship team in the right role. 

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Still, the man who finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting a season ago is all about guarding. Jordan is almost the entire Clippers defense at this point, and the numbers back that. The team is allowing 1.8 points per 100 possessions fewer when Jordan is on the floor.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Jordan is the only garbage man on the Clippers. On a team without many guys who can defend on the wings, Jordan is the helper who can clean up all the mistakes and he's the sole rim-protector on a shallow roster.

When L.A. first signed Spencer Hawes in July, some thought the deal wasn't just so the Clips could have a quality backup center. There was conjecture Hawes could be an interim center in Jordan's place if the 2015 free agent were to leave over the summer. 

Now, that plan seems sillier than a Shel Silverstein murder novel. With the season Hawes has had (and you can read more on that here), there is somewhere between a zero percent and "Oh, hell no!" percent chance of Hawes being the Clippers' starting center next year. So, Jordan becomes even more important than he was entering October, which was already pretty darn essential. 

Much like with Danny and Sandy, things get complicated over the summer. 

In reality, the Clippers only have six dependable players on the roster as is, and that includes Jordan, who could walk at the end of the year...but not really.

It's hard to say exactly what Jordan is thinking because there haven't been any notable reports about his offseason intentions, and amazingly, few of us are actual mind readers. (To the real mind readers out there, I apologize for my vast generalizations.)

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

Still, intuition would dictate Jordan stays, especially if the Clippers are willing to pay market price for him, something they have to do considering how locked into their current roster they are at the moment.

There may be a bunch of great centers hitting free agency this offseason (Marc Gasol, Tyson Chandler, Robin Lopez, Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez, etc.), but the Clippers' salary cap situation means it'd be far easier financially to re-sign Jordan than it would be to try signing one of those other big names as a replacement. 

Market value is going to be high, too. There's already supposition saying Jordan could see some max offers once his current deal runs out on July 1. The Cauldron's Jared Dubin made the max contract argument well earlier in the week:

Nearly half the league will have upwards of $10 million or more in cap space, and that’s before factoring in cap-clearing deals that could be made in the next month or so before the trade deadline. Four years ago, Jordan got nearly $11 million a year under a much tighter cap, when his potential impact was more of a hope and a prayer than an actuality. Now that his influence is real, he’s surely in line for a hefty raise.

It’s not every day you see a 26-year old big man who can anchor a defense hit the open market. That’s the kind of scenario that just screams “MAX CONTRACT,” and with the improvements he’s shown, the upside that may still remain and the major influx of TV money coming into the league shortly, he very well would be worth it.

With the cap projecting to pass $80 million by the start of 2016, a Jordan max deal isn't exactly as much as it seems just by its terminology (the cap projects to be a little over $66 million next year). The NBA's new TV deal means everything, and Jordan is going to be one of the beneficiaries of it, whether he gets maxed out or not. 

A max contract in 2015 is going to be worth far less than one doled out once the cap explodes. Because of that, retaining Jordan this summer (even if it's for a max deal) would actually be the cheaper option than chasing a top-of-the-line guy the following offseason.

The Clips could conceivably let D.J. walk, use Hawes or someone else as a temporary, one-year replacement and try to fight it out for a playoff spot in next year's West before chasing after one of the big-name 2016 free agents, but exactly how smart would that be?

Do you really want to take a step back during the tail end of Chris Paul's prime? And if we really are nearing the end of Paul as the NBA's best point guard (that's no indictment on Paul; you can't be the best in the league forever), then wouldn't this be a major mistake and an astronomic misuse of the already slim roster?

The Clippers may be "struggling" at 29-14 this season—or at least underperforming—but it's not necessarily because the core of the team is flawed. It's because there is no production from the margins. Letting part of that core, the most important defender on a team which doesn't guard particularly well to begin with, leave for nothing could be back-breaking, especially if the Clips weren't to land anyone down the line. 

So, are the Clippers better off possibly overpaying a 26-year-old DeAndre or letting their center walk? The choice may already be made for them.

Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade but maintains that his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work on ESPN's TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.

All quotes obtained firsthand. Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are current as of Jan. 23 and are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.