NBA Sunday: Better Off Without DeAndre?
In the long run, Mark Cuban shouldn’t worry too much about losing out on DeAndre Jordan, writes Moke Hamilton.
It was a mere 48 hours since DeAndre Jordan had spurned his Dallas Mavericks and did an about-face by re-signing with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Mark Cuban—who was no stranger to the limelight—found himself with the cameras on him and the recorders rolling.
“I pick my nose at the table,” Cuban said to the crowd that had appeared around him in an impromptu media session at Cox Pavilion during the 2015 NBA Summer League.
“I don’t give a [f***] about etiquette,” he said.
“Etiquette” was the word that was used during a discussion that focused—albeit for only a few minutes—on DeAndre Jordan.
With a shrug of his shoulders and with his typically nonchalant, tell it like it is tone, Cuban offered a two-word phrase to end the discussion.
“[Sh**] happens,” he said. “This is business. It’s the real world. … You move on.”
That, he has.
As it relates to the Mavericks, “etiquette” might be an appropriate word to come up in that context, as Jordan did violate one of the industry’s long-held practices and unwritten rules.
He wasn’t the first, though, and he won’t be the last. Cuban, a businessman to his core, understands this quite well.
“Selfish” would have been equally appropriate, but if there’s one word I would use to describe what many consider to be one of the low moments for the Mavericks since Cuban became the team’s majority owner in 2000, it would be “fortunate,” because in the long run, the Mavericks are better off having not committed $80 million to Jordan.
* * * * *
Anyone who knows me or reads my work even semi-regularly is probably aware of my affinity for Chris Paul’s basketball talent. This past spring’s 3-1 debacle aside, I once took heat for arguing that Paul’s on-court talent and contributions, to me, put him in the same “category” as an in-prime Jason Kidd. There’s no question in my mind that if Paul played with another superstar of his caliber, he would be held in much higher esteem than he currently is because he would have experienced much more team success to this point in his career.
Still, that’s a different argument for a different day.
What routinely gets overlooked as it relates to excellent floor generals, like Paul, is the impact that they have on the other players around them. One of the greatest gifts that Rajon Rondo prominently and regularly displayed was the ability to not only deliver the ball to his teammates, but to actually know his teammates. Rondo knew where his teammates hot spots were, what their tendencies were, where they were most effective and how, amazingly, to find them at the right moment—right when they were ready to score.
Kidd, unquestionably one of the greatest point guards to ever play the game, is the best player I have ever seen in that regard. As a member of both the Phoenix Suns and especially the New Jersey Nets, Kidd helped players like Clifford Robinson, Rodney Rogers, Kenyon Martin and Kerry Kittles find levels of productivity that they struggled to match without him.
Even as Kidd ripened and had one foot out the door as a member of the New York Knicks, although a step slower, he still had his amazing court vision and awareness and ability to impact the game simply because he knew how, where and when to find his teammates. It’s no surprise that the Knicks were a 50-win team with Kidd and just a 37-win team the year after he left.
Steve Nash is among the greats, as well, and Amar’e Stoudemire, Raja Bell and Quentin Richardson would all agree.
All of this relates back to Paul because of one simple question that many of us are not brave enough to ask or perhaps intuitive enough to even ponder: Where would Jordan be without Paul?
Would he have led the entire league in shooting percentage over the past three seasons without Paul? Could he have converted 71 percent of his field goal attempts last season without Paul? Would he be as highly regarded across the league had he not spent the last four seasons playing with Paul?
The answer to each of those questions is easy: absolutely not. Of course, though answered factually and assertively, that’s merely an opinion that Jordan was eager to prove wrong.
It is wanting to prove those of us that believe that Jordan’s success, at least on the offensive end, is due in very large part to Paul that drove Jordan to agree to terms with the Mavericks in the first place.
Fortunately, for both parties, Jordan came back to his senses.
Typically, men who are seven feet tall have trouble walking and chewing gum at the same time. Jordan’s nimbleness, athleticism and agility are gifts in and of themselves. On the offensive end, he is one of the game’s best pick-and-roll readers and reactors and as a center with explosive finishing ability, that makes him an asset—so long as he is playing with a ball handler who can consistently find him.
More than anything else, what Jordan needs to excel in the NBA is a point guard who can create for him. Although he does possess what I believe to be is a better back-to-the-basket game than most of us realize, the simple fact is that Jordan is still most effective as a finisher at or near the rim. Playing with a legion of offensive threats and three other players who are capable of pressuring opposing defenses by having the ability to create their own shot, the last thing Jordan ever needs to worry about as a member of the Clippers is being the primary object of another team’s scouting assignment.
Defensively, his timing and instincts are nothing short of amazing. Despite his atrocious free-throw shooting, he will certainly impact the game on the defensive end. He is a game-changer, I’m just not sure that he would have been worth the kind of commitment that the Mavericks were prepared to make to him.
The very real question as it relates to Jordan is whether he is more Shaquille O’Neal than he is Tyson Chandler. But before you formulate an answer, just recall that Chandler averaged a career-best 11.8 points per game during the 2007-08 season—when he played with Chris Paul.
It was Paul’s job to make Chandler look good then as much as it is his job to make Jordan look good now, and of that, he had done a damn good job.
In fact, Jordan is a specialist whose skills and talents are perfectly suited to the situation in which he finds himself in Los Angeles. Without Rondo or Monta Ellis in Dallas and being paid $20 million per year, Jordan would have been expected to shoulder a burden that he probably would not have been able to manage. If you want an example of what that can do to a player’s psyche or morale, look no further than the man that effectively replaced Jordan in Dallas—Deron Williams.
And yes, while the cap may increase dramatically over the next few years, paying a specialist as much as 20 percent of your cap is no recipe for success. The key to winning in the NBA, whether the cap is $50 million, $60 million or $100 million is return on investment, and as great as Jordan has been for the Clippers, he would not have been able to emerge into a $20 million per year player for the Mavericks.
So, on this day in Las Vegas, if you wondered why Cuban seemed so nonchalant and passive about the entire situation, it’s because, deep down inside, he probably realized that.
Best believe, if there is one thing Cuban knows a thing or two about, it’s success. And that is exactly why his Mavericks, even without Jordan, will rise again.
* * * * *
In the aftermath of Jordan recommitting to Doc Rivers and ensuring the continuance of the Clippers as a contender in the Western Conference, Cuban has done his best to not only dispose of the cap space that was earmarked for Jordan—but to make wise and prudent decisions with the durations and dollars that he is committing in new contracts.
Yes, the Mavericks have moved on, but they now do so with spare parts instead of fresh, new tires. In the end, the moves that they have made look good on paper but will most likely result in a lateral move, at best.
The Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Clippers should be the top teams in the Western Conference. The Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder are all easily better, as well. That puts the Mavericks at seventh (at best), but also does not consider that the New Orleans Pelicans, Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz all have major upside that could result in a surprisingly productive season.
So now, after Rondo, Ellis and Chandler have each defected, the Mavericks again find themselves as a team that’s on a journey to nowhere. The NBA is a business and you have to field a team and compete, even when you know that you’re not contending for a championship. That is exactly where Cuban and his team is. As the sun sets on Dirk Nowitzki’s career, Cuban is aimlessly searching for the superstar that can lead his franchise into tomorrow.
Jordan is not that guy.
So yes, without him, Cuban and Donnie Nelson continue to lead their franchise on a journey to a destination, only they are not sure how they will get there. They do not have a GPS or a map, but what they do have, in Cuban and Nelson, are capable navigators.
If there is one thing that we have learned from the Summer of 2015—the summer where the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers each failed to attract a marquee free agent—it is that the contemporary NBA superstar values a winning culture more than he does a big market.
Gone are the days where a player needs to be in a city with bright lights in order to become an international superstar. With Twitter, NBA League Pass and the growing popularity of international basketball, LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Monroe—the biggest free agents to switch teams this summer—opted for basketball culture over bright lights.
That is exactly why anytime there is a free agent out there that thinks he needs a change of scenery, he will be listening to Cuban. Amongst NBA players, Cuban has the reputation of being a “player’s owner” and of someone who not only runs a first class organization, but someone who is amazingly transparent in all facets of his business.
And believe me, in the NBA, that is difficult to find.
With his track record of success since taking over the Mavericks 15 years ago and his championship trophy from the 2011 NBA Finals, Cuban will never have a problem generating interest in his club. Had he become aware of Jordan’s intention to re-sign with the Clippers on, say, July 2, there is no doubt in my mind that he would have ended up with either Roy Hibbert or David Lee, because players simply want to play for an owner like Cuban.
I don’t know if Kevin Durant is going to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder next summer, but I do know that if he decides to consider the idea and visit a short list of teams, the Mavericks will be one of them.
Amongst the league’s front offices and scores of its player personnel, Cuban has something that Jordan would not have been able to buy, not even with the $80 million he left on the table in Dallas—respect.
In the end, that will go much further for Cuban and the Mavericks than Jordan would have.
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