Once the Los Angeles Clippers were knocked out of the postseason following a Game 7 loss in Houston, the focus for Doc Rivers turned to preparing for next season. Priority No. 1 on his agenda has to be re-signing unrestricted free agent DeAndre Jordan.
The Clippers are expected to offer their starting center a max contract worth an estimated $108.7 million, sources told ESPN's Arash Markazi. Jordan led the NBA with 15.0 rebounds per game this season, shot a league best 71.0 percent from the field, was 4th in blocked shots with 2.23 per game and tied for 9th with 14.7 Estimated Wins Added. It's clear why the Clippers would want him back, but does Jordan still want the Clippers?
According to Fox Sports 1 NBA Insider Bill Reiter, that may not be a given.
Sources: DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul have had falling out throughout season, a fact that could push Jordan to another team in free agency.— Bill Reiter (@sportsreiter) May 18, 2015
Chris Paul is notoriously demanding of his teammates. His fiery demeanor is part of what makes him such a great competitor, but it can also aggravate certain teammates. Guys like MJ and Kobe were known for that same leadership mentality, but also have rings to back it up. Paul has never even made it to the Conference Finals.
If the tension in the Clippers locker room does indeed push Jordan to look elsewhere in free agency, it opens a glimmer of hope that the Boston Celtics could steal him away from their former coach.
Jordan would fill a lot of needs for the Celtics. He's an ultra-athletic center that can protect the rim and rebound with the best of them. His offensive game is limited, but he is extremely efficient with the shots he does take and creates a lot of easy baskets when teammates lob the ball toward the hoop and allow DJ to go get it.
His horrendous free throw shooting remains a concern. Jordan is a career 41.7 percent shooter from the charity stripe and we saw the Rockets exploit that with the frustratingly effective 'Hack-A-DJ' strategy, which led to him setting a record with 28 first-half free throw attempts in Game 4.
The good news is that the excessive fouling may make the NBA consider rule changes to limit teams from intentionally fouling poor shooters away from the ball or early in the shot clock. The league is a long way from agreeing to any changes, but we can probably all agree that the constant game stoppages that are the result of this strategy aren't good for the game. Something has to be done about it. If changes are made, it can only help Jordan's value rise even further.
The Celtics would certainly be interested even if the 26-year old center does come with the baggage of his free throw shooting woes because he's so dominant in other areas of his game. If Jordan does turn down the chance to return to Los Angeles, Boston could have a shot at him. While the Clippers can offer him the most money, Boston has the cap space to match the 4-year, $80.7 million that any other team is allowed to offer. The Celtics can also offer him the chance to step out of the shadow of CP3 and Blake Griffin to become the star of his own team, leading a young group on the rise that has plenty of flexibility to build around him with their bundle of assets.
The Clippers don't have many options in what they can do to tinker with their roster if Jordan stays. Many of the other teams likely to chase him in free agency don't have that luxury either.
It's possible that the tension between DJ and CP3 has been overblown. Once Jordan has had time to let the sting of their playoff exit wear off, perhaps he'll decide that sticking beside one of the league's premier point guards gives him the best chance to win. Or he might stay just for the extra cash.
We don't know what Jordan will decide, but what this news does tell us is that the window may be open. The chances of the Celtics bringing him to Boston may be even lower than the odds of Jordan hitting a free throw, but missing shots hasn't stopped Jordan from attempting them and it shouldn't stop Danny Ainge from trying either.