How the DeAndre Jordan fiasco -- the most absurd 12 hours in free agency history -- genuinely changed the NBA

About 12 hours before 12:01 a.m. eastern on July 9, when NBA teams can officially sign free agents, word trickled out that free agent DeAndre Jordan was reconsidering his commitment to the Dallas Mavericks.

Five days before that, Jordan had verbally agreed to a four-year, $US80 million deal with the Mavs. At the time it was devastating for the Los Angeles Clippers, who suddenly lost their starting center with no way to replace him. It looked like a coup for Dallas, which spent the ensuing days making roster decisions under the assumption that they had Jordan locked up.

But at noon on the day before the NBA’s moratorium on signing free agents ended, we got this:

What followed was the most absurd 12-hour period in the history of NBA free agency. It involved emoji wars, Chris Paul cutting short his vacation with LeBron James, the Clippers barricading themselves inside Jordan’s house, Mark Cuban calling out an ESPN reporter, and Chandler Parsons, who’d been DeAndre’s best bro just a week before, torching him in an all-time great interview

As hilarious and entertaining as it was, the saga genuinely affected the trajectories of two of the league’s most valuable franchises, and likely changed the way NBA free agency works going forward. The Clippers are suddenly back from the dead, the Mavericks are suddenly screwed, and the NBA is tasked with figuring out how to make sure this type of thing never happens again.

This saga has so many weird elements and subplots that it only makes sense when it’s explained in full, so here’s a complete timeline of how it went down.

May-June: Why DeAndre ‘left’ LA

Let’s start in the playoffs, where the Clippers crashed out to the underdog Houston Rockets in the second round. Throughout the playoffs L.A.’s opponents were intentionally fouling Jordan, a 39.7% free throw shooter, in order to disrupt the Clippers’ league-best offence.

The Hack-a-Jordan strategy didn’t really work, but it turned Jordan into a divisive figure among, fans, coaches, and, apparently, players. After the Clippers lost to Houston, Bill Reiter of Fox Sports reported that there was an ongoing feud between Jordan and Chris Paul, with Paul’s contention that Jordan didn’t practice free throws enough as one of the contributing factors. This report was backed up two months later by ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, who said Jordan had grown tired of Paul’s “constant barking and petty gestures.”

When Jordan became a free agent on July 1, two options emerged: 1) stay in L.A. and continue to play a secondary role on a Chris Paul/Blake Griffin-led team, or 2) take slightly less money to go to Dallas and be the piece around which the team is built.

The Mavericks made sense because Jordan’s agent, Dan Fegan, has a famously close relationship with Mark Cuban. In addition, Jordan is from Texas, the state’s tax laws would basically nullify the financial advantage the Clippers had under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, and the team had max cap space and an opening at center. 

They also had a secret weapon: ace recruiter Chandler Parsons. According to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, Parsons and Jordan spent six days together hanging out in Los Angeles before free agency opened on July 1. They became effective BFFs:

That’s a lot of dinners!

Parsons cozied up to Jordan, the Mavericks offered Jordan “a Dwight Howard-size role in an NBA offence”  (unlike the Clippers, whose initial pitch was reportedly centered around off-the-court marketing things), and on July 3, two days into free agency and six days before he could official sign a contract, Jordan verbally agreed to an $US80 million deal.

Cuban had his man, and wasn’t hiding his elation. He even went on a Dallas radio station and gave an interview where he talked about signing Jordan and said he was “Shaq-like,” which drew a $US25,000 tampering fine from the league.

But who cares, for the first time in a long time Cuban went after a max free agent and got him, and now he set about filling out the rest of the roster.

July 3-8: The Mavs build around DeAndre, and then a loophole gets exposed

There’s an obvious loophole in the NBA’s free agency rules. On July 1, players are officially free agents and can negotiate contracts with teams. However, they can’t sign those contracts until July 9. During this eight-day moratorium, the NBA counts its money and determines the next year’s salary cap. The idea is to give the league accountants time to conduct an audit while also giving teams enough time to meet with players they want to sign.

The verbal agreements made during this moratorium aren’t binding, but through a set of unwritten rules, the NBA treats them as if they’re set in stone. Teams won’t try to poach free agents after they make a verbal agreement, for example. As a result, the vast majority of business conducted in the NBA offseason happens during the moratorium, when the moves aren’t technically official.

The Mavericks got screwed because they behaved as if they already had DeAndre in the bag. They signed Wes Matthews to a massive deal thinking he was a secondary perimeter piece on a team with a dominant center. They let the market for centres dry up, with Robin Lopez going to New York, Kosta Koufos going to Sacramento, and Omer Asik going to New Orleans. They unsurprisingly turned the page on Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis. They did away with any possible Plan B, like Roy Hibbert, who went to the Lakers:

In a radio interview on July 3, Cuban said getting DeAndre made him do a complete 180 on his offseason plan. He said the plan was to take a “step back” and save money if they struck out on DeAndre:

“We wanted to get Wes, he was a target for us all summer, and obviously DeAndre as well, but if we got shut out, we weren’t going to just try to fill the roster. We had the discussion that if we couldn’t get a serious free agent, whether it was one of the guys still out there or some of the guys who already went, then it was time to take a step back.”  

While it’s not unprecedented for players to change their minds and back out of verbal agreements, it’s so rare (especially for guys like Jordan) that teams feel comfortable doing all their business as if these deals are binding.

On July 8, a day before teams could officially sign players, the Mavs found out how devastating this loophole can be.

July 8, afternoon: Hahahahah, what?!

The first signal that this DeAndre thing was going to blow up came from ESPN’s Marc Stein on Wednesday July 8 around noon:

But things started rolling two days before that. According to ESPN, DeAndre called Rivers on Monday, July 6 to tell him he was having “second thoughts.” At that point he was at his house in Houston, but he was still in contact with the Mavericks.

“Through all of Monday we were texting back and forth discussing players available, the amount of cap room we had left. Who our staff liked. Who he liked. How excited he was,” Cuban said in a CyberDust post to fans.

Things changed on Tuesday. According to Cuban, DeAndre stopped responding to him, so he flew to Houston and checked into a hotel down the street from his house.

“I had my driver take me to his house,” Cuban said. “There was no one home. So I texted him saying that I was there. I know something is up. Let’s talk. He texted me that I was on a date.”

On a podcast with Grantland’s Zach Lowe, Clippers player JJ Redick identified who that date was with: Blake Griffin. Redick says Griffin was in Houston and he and Jordan went out to dinner on Tuesday night, before the saga went public on Wednesday.

It was actually Tuesday morning, Redick says, that Doc Rivers called him and said, “Hey, DeAndre wants to come back, we’re going to Houston.”

Redick drove from his home in Austin to Houston on Wednesday morning, where a Clippers contingent that included Rivers, Griffin, owner Steve Ballmer, Chris Paul, and Pierce was gathering at a hotel ahead of a meeting at Jordan’s house where they expected him to re-commit to coming to to L.A.

In response to reports that the Clippers were assembling, Parsons — the guy who did the legwork on the Jordan recruiting process — tweeted a plane emoji indicating he was coming to Houston to save the day:

Redick, who was already in Houston, immediately responded with his own emoji.

“I was just on my Twitter account, scrolling through my timeline, and I saw a plane emoji. You know, ‘Chandler Parsons to the rescue, yaaa!,'” Redick told Lowe. “And I was just like, alright we’re gonna tweet out a car, I’m already here.”