LOS ANGELES — DeAndre Jordan’s first flirtation with free agency proved a brief affair, with the big man initially enchanted by the lure of a new suitor, only to waffle when confronted with the prospect of leaving the Los Angeles Clippers behind.
“He left for a moment mentally,” coach Doc Rivers said.
Jordan formally re-signed with the Clippers on Thursday, ending a short, strange free agency trip back where he began his NBA career. He verbally committed to the Mavericks last Friday, with Jordan’s agent breaking the news to Rivers.
“In my gut it never felt he wanted to leave and that was hard for me,” Rivers said by phone Thursday. “I beat myself up. I always have regrets because we didn’t get him originally. There were things on everybody’s side that could have been done differently.”
Jordan has remained mum this week, not having tweeted since a comment about the Women’s World Cup final last Sunday.
As it became widely known that Jordan was wavering, Rivers assembled a Clippers contingent to visit his home in Houston on Wednesday, including Blake Griffin, newly acquired Paul Pierce, J.J. Redick and team owner Steve Ballmer.
The farcical situation perfectly suited Griffin’s prankster mentality — something he shares with Jordan — and Griffin unleashed his comedy in real-time on Twitter. His photo of a chair blocking the front door was “hilarious,” Rivers said.
The bunker mentality portrayed online, with the Clippers determined to keep Mavs owner Mark Cuban away from Jordan, was nonexistent, Rivers said, explaining that he, Jordan and Redick came and went from the house at various times.
“It’s amazing how it’s been portrayed, but it is a good story,” Rivers said. “I was oblivious to the emoji war going on, but our guys were all looking at their phones. I should have known better that something was going on.”
Behind closed doors, Jordan and his old-new teammates played cards and watched the Clippers’ summer league game on TV.
“It was a wonderful moment for a bunch of the guys to get into a room and talk about our team,” Rivers said. “That’s what you want.”
Part of the discussion included Jordan’s relationship with Chris Paul; rumours have suggested the two don’t get along.
“They had disagreements, just like Blake and I have disagreements. It’s not as sinister as people keep trying to make this,” Rivers said. “The hatred was so overblown it was laughable, but teams do have issues and they always will. Did we all probably need to have that talk? Yeah, and it was good. People were free in their conversation.”
Paul posted a quote from Edgar Allan Poe on his Instagram account Thursday: “Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear.” It was accompanied by a photo of him and a smiling Jordan hugging during a game.
“I would say that quote is more true,” Rivers said.
At 26, Jordan was experiencing his first chance to leave the team that drafted him seven years ago out of Texas A&M.
“I wish people could be in that situation and feel that pressure. It seems so easy from afar, but it’s not,” Rivers said. “These are career decisions that young people are making and career financial decisions. If he’s in this situation again, he’ll probably be better at it.”
Jordan averaged a career-high 11.5 points and 15 rebounds while starting all 82 regular-season games. He led the NBA in rebounding and field-goal percentage (.710), a single-season mark second only to Wilt Chamberlain in league history. Jordan owns the league’s longest current active streak, having appeared in 322 consecutive games.
Jordan is billed as part of the Clippers’ Big Three, including Griffin and Paul, whose offence drives the team while Jordan is the primary defensive stopper. In temporarily choosing Dallas, it was suggested Jordan wanted a featured offensive role, although his scoring consists of monster dunks.
His coach likened Jordan’s bizarre change-of-heart to a game where there’s a winner and a loser.
“We got our guy,” Rivers said.