By Zack Cunningham
If this all feels eerily familiar, it’s because we’ve been here before.
Some 10 hours removed from the start of NBA free agency, the Dallas Mavericks and Deandre Jordan are ready to unite after an opt-in and trade scenario between Dallas and the Clippers couldn’t be agreed upon Friday, the deadline for players like Jordan to either decline or accept their player options.
Dallas had hopes of shipping swingman Wes Matthews to the Clippers if Jordan opted in for the final year of his $24.1 million contract and working a trade with the now-29 year old big man to bring him to the Mavericks, the team he backed out of a verbal agreement with some three years ago.
The best-case scenario heading into Friday for Dallas was being free and clear of the final year of Wes Matthews’ four-year, $70 million deal and taking in Jordan. The move would’ve left Dallas with nearly $20 million in cap space to pursue one more sizeable free agent acquisition this summer while tending to the Mavericks’ other free agents like Doug McDermott and Seth Curry, to name a few.
But the Clippers, per Marc Stein, wanted more than Dallas was willing to give up in trade, specifically draft compensation. Given the Mavericks already shelled out their 2019 first-round pick on draft night to the Atlanta Hawks to acquire Luka Doncic, it’s understandable Dallas said no. The Mavericks, not needing to trade the farm for Jordan in this scenario, simply opted to pursue the big man one more time in free agency just like they did in 2015.
The trade talks were allegedly halted on Friday and, per The Athletic’s Tim Cato, Dallas informed Matthews himself that he wouldn’t be traded.
(In preparation for clearing the requisite cap space, Dallas declined the team option on the final year of Dirk Nowitzki’s 2-year, $10 million deal. The team plans to circle back to the franchise cornerstone in July to work out a deal.)
This summer, however (and to the relief of Dallas fans), presents a much-different landscape than three years ago. Jordan is nearly 30 (not old, but not 26 either) and the market for NBA centers has almost completely dried up.
Dallas is the only team with eyes for Jordan (aside from the Warriors who, even with their MLE of $5 million, might be enough to elicit a sideways glance from the Houston native) and their appears to be significant mutual interest between the player and the team. The word is Jordan wants to be in Dallas and, per Mike Fisher at DallasBasketball.com, the two sides have long since hashed-out their differences since three years ago.
It can be argued that he wanted to be a Maverick three years ago, however, but the Clippers don’t have Chris Paul or Blake Griffin (they do still have Doc Rivers at the helm, though) banging on Jordan’s door this time. While the unease and even skepticism on the part of Mavericks’ fans may be understandable, the reality is that there’s very little reason for Jordan to bolt back to Lob City as the Clippers recently traded Austin Rivers for Marcin Gortat and are reportedly very high on Montezl Harrell. Jordan no longer fits the Clippers’ plans.
Jordan said as recently as this season pondered aloud whether the Clippers wanted him. Dallas has made him their No. 1 priority. That should settle that.
The main question going forward will be how much the Mavericks decide to pay Jordan. The point can be made that even though he did just leave $24M on the table that he would take less for a longer-term deal, but Dallas needs to be careful here. They don’t need to bid against themselves, but they also shouldn’t hold Jordan over a barrel, either. A deal starting in the 3-year, $60 million range will probably be doable for both sides.
While things figure to end differently this time around, July 6 (when players can put pen to paper on new free agency deals) cannot get here fast enough for Dallas.