The DeAndre Jordan Fiasco for Sports Dummies
I’ve been a Dallas Mavericks fan for basically my entire adult life. I not only live and die by their success, but I’m pretty locked in on the moves they make, looking for any sign that they’re getting better, which increases my entertainment, or worse, which increases my despair. So I was understandably disappointed by the recent news about them and their free-agent target DeAndre Jordan. If you follow sports at all, you’ve probably heard about it. It’s been hard to miss these last two days, plastered all over sports websites, discussed on sports radio, and it kinda blew up Twitter last night.
But if you’re not a sports junkie, or even a casual sports fan, you might not know what happened, or why it sucks for fans of the Mavericks, or the NBA in general. If you’re one of those people, then this article is for you. What follows is a general rundown of the DeAndre Jordan Fiasco, written for people who don’t know about the intricacies of the NBA, free agency, the salary cap, or why anyone should care about any of this.
Who is DeAndre Jordan?
DeAndre Jordan is a basketball player. He’s a tall, strong man, who’s played for the Los Angeles Clippers for the last 7 years. The Clippers, like the Mavs, are basketball teams. They play in the NBA, home of teams you might have heard of, such as the Lakers, the Knicks, the Bulls, and the Celtics. Teams get their players by drafting them and having them sign contracts for a specified number of years, usually between 1 and 5. After playing for the Clippers for 7 years, DeAndre Jordan’s most recent contract was up, making him a free agent.
What is Free Agency?
In the NBA, when your current contract expires, you become a free agent. All contracts that are up in a given season officially expire at the end of the NBA year, which is the last day of June. That means on July 1st, these players are all free to sign with any other team who can afford them under their salary cap. (There’s actually a small catch there that we’ll get to in a moment…)
What is a salary cap?
A detailed explanation of the NBA’s salary cap can be found here. If you want a simpler explanation, think of it like this… the salary cap is a budget that all teams have to adhere to. Teams can sign (or trade for) all the players they want, but the combined salaries for a given year have to fit under the cap (with some exceptions).
For example, imagine being a teenager and your parents drop you off at the mall and give you $100 to spend. That 100 bucks is your cap. You can buy food, clothes, see a movie, or play games, but whatever you do has to fit in that $100. So you have to prioritize where your money goes (That becomes important later).
Why do NBA teams need a cap?
Because NBA teams are owned by both millionaires and billionaires. Without a cap, the billionaires would simply outspend the millionaires, and the NBA would be unbalanced, and frankly, boring for the teams with owners who couldn’t keep up. The salary cap keeps everything competitive. It puts all teams on an equal footing, at least in terms of money they can offer.
Why do we care about that?
Free agency and the salary cap go hand-in-hand, because the amount of space you have under the cap dictates who you can go out and sign. Mediocre players don’t cost you too much. Really good players, or players with potential, are very expensive, and they can eat up your space fast. And if you don’t have any space (i.e. you’ve signed a lot of players for lots of years), then you’re mostly just sitting to the side and watching the teams that do have space fight to get the prime free agents.
The Mavs came into this free agency period with money to spend, and some pretty good players to spend it on. Of all the free agents available this offseason, two of them were at the very top of everyone’s list. The Mavs couldn’t afford both, so they targeted one, DeAndre Jordan, early on as a player who could carry the team for the foreseeable future. He was big, athletic, and dynamic, and he’d immediately improve the team in a number of areas in which they were lacking. So when free agency opened, they wined him and they dined him and they made a considerable pitch for him to join the Mavericks. He listened to his old team, the Clippers, but ended up not quite as impressed. So on Friday, July 3rd, two days after free agency opened, he made a verbal agreement to join the Mavs and ecstatic cheers were heard across North Texas.
Wait, a verbal agreement?
Yes. The catch I mentioned way back in the beginning about free agency is this: players are free of their old contracts on July 1st. But they can’t sign new ones until July 9th. That period is called the Moratorium Period. There are various reasons for its existence, but the main one has to do with player tampering. That’s a whole other conversation. Just know that even though players can ‘agree’ to join a team during the moratorium, they can’t officially sign a legally binding contract until the 9th.
Now, even though these agreements are only verbal, 99.9% of players honor them. When they tell a team they want to sign with them, that’s usually what happens once the moratorium is lifted. NBA nerds can probably count on one hand the number of times they’ve heard of someone backing out, and even in those rare cases, the players aren’t top tier free agents. So when a high-profile player makes a verbal agreement, and then backs out, well…. that makes news.
Cue the recent fiasco.
Wait, let me guess what happened…
No, let me tell you. It’s more fun that way.
July 3rd was a Friday. That’s when Jordan committed to the Mavs and the city of Dallas rejoiced. Why? Because by that point, most of the other good free agents were off the board, having come to agreements with other teams. If Dallas hadn’t landed Jordan, they’d be screwed because there weren’t many other viable options left. They’d put all their eggs in the Jordan basket, because that’s who they wanted, so that’s who they focused their efforts on. Teams just can’t meet personally with every free agent out there, so they have to prioritize.
But then came Monday. That’s when, according to ‘sources’, DeAndre Jordan called up his old coach, having second thoughts about his agreement. Then came Tuesday, when one of his old teammates came into town to hang out. Then came Wednesday, July 8th, the last day before contracts could be officially signed, and the day when Twitter blew up.
It all started earlier that day when word got out that the Clippers were all converging on Jordan’s Houston home (where he’s originally from) to convince him to resign with them. Once they heard he was waffling, they pulled out all the stops to get him back, while the Mavericks started sending their own reinforcements into town. All sorts of conflicting reports came out that afternoon/evening, saying that the Clippers had Jordan holed up in his house with the doors locked and barred, refusing to let Dallas representatives in; Jordan wasn’t responding to texts or phone calls from the Mavs or even from his agent; Mark Cuban, the owner of the Mavs (who you might know from Shark Tank or Dancing With the Stars) was driving around Houston frantically trying to get Jordan’s address. All sorts of crazy rumors and stories were flying. It was chaos, and for the majority of people following it, it was fantastic entertainment.
For Mavs fans, it was gut-wrenching.
So, what happened?
In the end, the rumors led to a fairly inevitable conclusion. At the very last moment, Jordan backed out on his agreement with the Mavs and went back to the Clippers. This was followed by several thousand Mavs fans hurling obscenities across various social networks. We thought we had our guy! We thought things were looking up! Now, we were screwed.
As I mentioned above, this is entirely within the rules. Until a contract is signed, players are free to do what they want, and teams are free to pursue them.
But, again, this is also something that almost NEVER HAPPENS!
Breaking an agreement between a team and a player, even a non-binding one, has repercussions. Because of the salary cap teams have to prioritize certain players. They can’t spend a fortune on everyone. They have to pick a few ‘big fish’ to build their team around, and then fill in the gaps with cheap players who have limited, yet useful, skillsets, especially skills that complement the star players. That was the Mavs plan. They had Jordan, along with a guy named Wesley Matthews, who signed this summer, and Chandler Parsons, who signed last summer. We had three promising young players we could build around, and watch as they meshed into something potentially great.
That’s called hope for the future. It’s how teams sell tickets, and stay profitable, and, more importantly, stay relevant.
Unfortunately, the lynchpin player of that group had backed out of his agreement. Something that was unthinkable before yesterday. Not only that, he did it in the most childish, immature way possible – by barricading himself in his house and literally refusing to talk to the Mavs or his agent (who would have told him what kind of harm he’d be doing to his reputation) until midnight EST, when contracts could officially be signed. And to top it all off, with today’s social media oversaturation, the entire world watched this debacle play out in real time. It was like a slow death, chronicled every few seconds by a new, sometimes hilarious, Tweet. Everyone saw the Clippers gloating, Jordan hiding, and the Mavs reeling.
Why is this so bad?
For a few reasons, most of which would require a whole other article to explain. But the main one is this – players don’t back out of verbal agreements because so much of what the team does is based on those agreements. Everyone is talking to everyone during that moratorium, trying to lure players to their teams with fat contracts. If players (and, in fairness, teams) can’t be held to their agreements, how can any other agreement be made? How do you organize the madness in a way that lets you build a team? Unwritten rules serve to give us a social contract that we depend on in all aspects of life. For example, you don’t stop on a busy sidewalk, you don’t try to start a conversation with someone wearing headphones, and unless it can’t be avoided, you ALWAYS leave a one-urinal-buffer-zone in the bathroom. Those are unwritten rules that help make life better. NBA free agency is a chaotic and unruly process, as well as a flawed one, but it’s the only process the NBA has. And unwritten rules serve to make it work in at least a manageable fashion. Jordan broke an unwritten rule in the most hurtful way possible, and he did irreparable damage to the Mavericks franchise by letting them think he was on board with their plans, watching as they set those plans in motion, and then bailing at the last possible moment WITHOUT EVEN SPEAKING TO THEM!
So why should I hate DeAndre Jordan?
I don’t know if hate is the right word. I definitely hate him, but it’s a sports hate. I wouldn’t punch him in the face if I saw him, but I would definitely want Jordan, and the Clippers, to suffer in the worst (sports-related) ways imaginable, mostly via non-life-threatening injures or humiliating Instagram pics. Anything to wipe those smug smiles off their faces (actually, that mostly applies to Chris Paul, who’s annoying as hell, despite his funny commercials). The rest of you can hate him, too, if you want. Or you can pity him for being an 8-year-old, disrespectful child in the body of a giant, freakishly athletic adult. Or you can just shake your head at a guy who couldn’t even bring himself to answer a phone or a text from the people who were counting on him. But you should definitely feel something in the general ‘hate’ vicinity.
I guess it’s better that he’s not a Maverick, given how he handled himself in the last few days. That’s small comfort for Mavs fans, but it’s all we have right now. I know it’s not realistic to expect any kind of actual consequence for what he did, but I’ll still root for it every chance I get, mostly by retweeting pics of DeAndre’s face Photoshopped on the body of a fat baby. But hopefully, now the rest of you can understand why we’re either hopping mad or crying in our cereal.
There is a bright side, albeit a small one. Wesley Matthews, who ‘agreed’ to join the Mavs along with DeAndre Jordan is still a Mav, and he seems to be a stand-up guy in comparison. But I’ll let Mark Cuban’s statement sum that part up: