LOS ANGELES (AP) — DeAndre Jordan thought the Dallas Mavericks offered everything he wanted, including a fresh start and a starring role.
Then Jordan thought about it some more, and the craziest free-agent recruitment story in recent NBA history ended with him back on the Los Angeles Clippers.
“When free agency started, this whole fiasco was not my intent,” Jordan said Tuesday.
Jordan celebrated his 27th birthday at Staples Center with the Clippers, proudly holding up the revamped version of his familiar No. 6 jersey alongside new teammates Paul Pierce and Josh Smith.
Yet Jordan realizes he nearly derailed the Clippers’ title hopes and definitely disrupted Dallas’ retooling plans by backing out of his verbal commitment. The two-time NBA rebounding champion changed his mind after days of existential angst and a frantic trip to Houston by the Clippers’ leaders to sit out the final hours of the signing moratorium together.
Jordan knows he picked an awfully weird way to stick with the same team, but he regretted the decision to join the Mavs shortly after making it.
“Originally with Dallas, I thought I wanted change,” Jordan said. “I wanted a bigger role and more responsibility, and I was ready to embrace and accept that challenge. But (when) I got by myself and I was able to think about everything that just happened, I realized that being with the Clippers was the best decision for me.”
Jordan has spent his entire seven-year career with the Clippers, who have made four straight playoff appearances for the first time. After decades of incompetence, they’ve become one of the NBA’s elite teams with Jordan, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin leading the way under coach Doc Rivers.
Jordan decided he had to find out how this story ends.
“I really thought about being on one team for my entire career,” said Jordan, who agreed to a four-year, $87.6 million deal to return. “That was really important to me. I’ve been here, and the past few seasons I’ve had have been pretty successful. I also feel like personally, I know the city. I know the fans. I’m used to the city of L.A., and I love it here.”
With four straight winning seasons and a growing fan base, the Clippers have shaken off their lamentable history under Donald Sterling and opened a prosperous new era under billionaire owner Steve Ballmer.
The Clippers also retooled their roster after their second-round playoff exit this spring — even if it would have meant much less if the big man had left a hole in the middle. Instead, Jordan was all smiles at Staples Center alongside fellow returnee Austin Rivers and five new teammates: Pierce, Smith, Wesley Johnson, Cole Aldrich and rookie Branden Dawson.
“First of all, he never left,” Rivers said. “I keep hearing that he came back. He never left. He talked about it, but he came back. I tell DJ all the time, you should be celebrated for making the right decision. I think he had that right to do that. It has happened before. It happens in business all the time, and the difference is, what we do is public, so everybody gets a chance to talk about it.”
Jordan realizes he left plenty of angry fans back in his home state. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has dismissed the apology posted on Jordan’s Twitter account.
“We make decisions in life, and when you go back and change your mind on them, I feel like the only thing you can do is man up and apologize for it,” Jordan said. “And that’s what I did. I can’t speak for Mark or anybody else.”
Jordan has led the league in rebounding and field-goal percentage for two straight years, yet his initial logic for leaving the Clippers suggests he occasionally feels overlooked in the shadow of his two All-Star teammates. Still, he scoffed at the idea he has a fractured relationship with Paul.
“I love Chris,” Jordan said. “When Chris got here, he changed the culture of our team. He helped me out in so many ways on and off the floor, just becoming a better player and a student of the game. I know it may look (like an argument) on the floor because we’re both emotional and vocal players. But when it comes down to it, we’re criticizing each other because we want what’s best for the team.”
Rivers and Jordan both laughed at the memory of July 8, which the Clippers’ leaders spent holed up in Jordan’s home before he could sign his deal. Griffin kept fans entertained by tweeting photos of a chair wedged under the knob on Jordan’s front door, or a tent in the backyard at the supposed siege.
“It wasn’t a hostage situation,” Jordan said with a grin. “I feel like I’m a pretty big guy, and I don’t think they could lock me inside my own house.”
“Oh no, we could lock him up,” Rivers interjected. “If we wanted to, that would have happened.”
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