The player who stiffed the Dallas Mavericks only three years ago, backing out of a four-year mega-deal, is finally in the fold.
Granted, DeAndre Jordan is playing this season, which opened Wednesday, on a one-year contract. He might bolt after the season for a team that can max out his salary, but the Houston native might also find a basketball home with the Mavs in his home state.
Much of that will depend on what happens over the span of the next 81 games.
If the Mavericks show enough improvement and if their young core shows that it could soon be playoff-worthy in the NBA’s toughest conference, Jordan might stick around and enjoy the ride.
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But much of the Mavs’ improvement will depend on Jordan. While most of the buzz surrounds second-year player Dennis Smith Jr. and Rookie of the Year candidate Luke Doncic, the areas where the Mavs were most deficient last season are the facets in which Jordan excels.
No player in the NBA has more rebounds the past four seasons than Jordan, who takes away extra possessions from opponents, gives his team second chances and can quickly move the offense into transition.
His defense might have shown some decline last season with the Los Angeles Clippers, but he is still considered among the best defensive big men in the game on a team that wants to play better defense.
So when the Mavs take the floor Saturday for their home opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jordan will be carrying a lot of burden for his new team.
“He’s a great rebounder,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “Our defensive rebounding percentage will get better simply by virtue of him. He adds so much defensive, and offensively, his roles are draw fouls, create dunks and create shots for guys time and time again.
“It creates possessions when you have guys like him. If you can generate second shots, that’s a big plus. We’ve got to take advantage of those things that he can do.”
Jordan showed in the first quarter of the Mavs’ 121-100 season-opening loss to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, when he scored all 11 of his points and grabbed five of his team-high 12 rebounds. Assigned with guarding rookie Deandre Ayton, Jordan helped limit the first overall pick to 18 points.
The Mavs’ defense overall, though, allowed the Suns to shoot 54.3 percent and 55.9 percent on 3-pointers (19 for 34). As good as Jordan can be defensively, he can’t guard five guys.
The Mavs were middle of the pack defensively last season, ranking 17th in the 30-team NBA, but their rebounding was only 27th. That was actually an improvement from 2016-17, when the Mavs were last in rebounding.
“I’m not going to come in here and say I’m changing our whole defensive scheme, but I know what I can bring to the table and I know what I’m going to try to bring to the table to this team and this organization,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s going to take five guys.
“Individually we can only do so much. When we’re connected all five, whichever five guys are out there, we’ve got be on a string. We’ve got to communicate. We’ve got to be physical. We’ve got to lock into game plans.”
Jordan, who played one season at Texas A&M, joined the Mavericks after 10 seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers. The Mavs reached a verbal agreement with him in 2015 on a four-year, $80 million before the lobbying from the Clippers started and convinced him to sign their four-year offer.
He led the NBA in field-goal percentage the first three seasons and in rebounding the first. Jordan isn’t a prolific scorer, in part because of dreadful free-throw shooting, but he can be effective on pick-and-rolls and when he gets the ball around the basket.
His 4,570 rebounds the past four seasons topped all Western Conference players and were second only to Andre Drummond of the Detroit Pistons. Jordan grabbed a career-best 15.2 rebounds last season, but Drummond grabbed 16 per game.
Jordan, though, ranked seventh in the NBA the past four seasons in win shares (45.5) after a top six that included James Harden, Stephen Curry, LeBron James, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis.
That’s pretty good company. If the Mavs want to join the company of those players’ teams, they have to rebound and guard better.
That’s where Jordan excels.
“We’ve got to take advantage of those strengths of his,” Carlisle said. “We’re excited to have him. There’s no other way to say it.”