May 12, 2012, 9:04 AM EDT
Last summer, the Golden State Warriors were looking for a big man to put next to David Lee and forced the Clippers hand — would the Clippers match a four year, $48.2 million contract offer for DeAndre Jordan? How badly did the Clippers want to keep Jordan next to Blake Griffin?
Badly enough to match the cash.
Except now in the playoffs when the the game was on the line Jordan isn’t next to Griffin. He’s sitting. Jordan played no minutes in the fourth quarter of Game 6. It was the same in the fourth quarter and overtime of Game 5. Despite being up against a team with one of the biggest front lines in the Association, Jordan sits and veteran Reggie Evans gets the run.
The energy he brings and the spotlight of the playoffs has turned Evans into a cult hero among Clippers fans. They were chanting his name in the fourth quarter Friday night.
By contrast, Jordan seems a ghost.
He had 7 points and 4 rebounds in 18 minutes of play in Game 6. Outside of finishing a crowd-igniting dunk off a Blake Griffin hustle play in the third quarter it’s hard to think of how Jordan impacted the game. It’s easy to think of how Evans did, for better and worse.
For the series Jordan is averaging 4.2 points and 4.3 rebounds a game. Chris Paul is out rebounding Jordan. His PER dropped from an above average 16.4 in the season to 10.4 in the playoffs — the kind of number that has you sitting on the bench late. He talked about it to the L.A. Times.
“I’m just not playing well,” Jordan said. “I’m just not getting the job done. It isn’t like I’m not trying. I know I have to do a better job. I’m trying.”
Coach Vinny Del Negro covers for him — “I just thought Reggie was playing well” — but the holes in Jordan’s game are too big at this point in the playoffs. His inconsistent offense (unless he gets dunks), and leaving his defensive and rebounding responsibilities to chase blocks are the kind of things that just can’t happen in the playoffs. Del Negro said Jordan needs to just be physical and get leverage against the big Memphis front line if he wants to stay on the court more. He’s not banging with Memphis
This is not to knock Jordan (well, completely), he’s 23, in his fourth NBA season and first playoffs. There is a whole lot of room for growth from these experiences. If he works at it the lessons learned here he could have a big role in the Clippers playoff run next year.
Rather, this is a cautionary parable about team building. The Clippers paid a steep price to keep Jordan and they will have him for a couple more years at least. In the run up to this season it seemed keeping Jordan as part of the core of this team was, if not the right move, a defensable move. But it’s hard to predict how a player will develop (or will not develop, particularly off an odd lockout summer). And the playoffs are not about teaching moments.
This summer will tell the tale with Jordan when he returns. The Clippers are taking steps forward with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. We’ll see if Jordan can take the steps needed along with them.
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