The Dallas Mavericks thought the deal was done. Little did they know DeAndre Jordan had other plans.
Doubt gave way to signer’s remorse, which led to the most epic free-agent heel turn in NBA history—a dizzying about-face that unfurled on social media in a haze of emojis and one fruit-shaped boat excursion.
It’s been two years since Jordan incited this bedlam, reneging on his agreement with the Mavericks and re-signing with the Los Angeles Clippers team he jilted. A lot has happened since then, some of it chaotic, but nothing like this.
Emojigate will live on forever, enshrined in memory, transcending the rigors and indifference of time. It has earned this retrospective—particularly when Jordan more than anyone is now dealing with the fallout of his eleventh-hour flip.
DeAndre Jordan’s 5-Day Contract
Lob City was ostensibly set for demolition on the afternoon of July 3.
ESPN’s Marc Stein brought word that Jordan planned to leave the Clippers for the Mavericks. Reports said he was sick and tired of Chris Paul‘s grating leadership. JJ Redick gave the Clippers an F for offseason execution solely because they lost Jordan.
As for Paul—well, he was riding a banana boat and toasting to next steps unknown with Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Gabrielle Union and Dwyane Wade by July 7:
Anyway, this was real.
And then it wasn’t.
As reported by Stein and Ramona Shelburne on ESPN.com, Jordan began second-guessing himself merely days later, and by late morning July 8, contingents from both the Clippers and Mavericks touched down in Houston, where the big man resided, according to Stein and Adrian Wojnarowski, then of Yahoo Sports.
All hell broke loose from there.
Emojis and Banana Boats and Old-Man Tweets—Oh My
Chandler Parsons, who was most responsible for recruiting Jordan to Dallas, fired the first one-character bullet:
This is a plane. And planes are for flying from one place to another. Parsons was obviously implying an impromptu trip to Houston. In doing so, though, he opened the floodgates for responses.
First there was Redick and Blake Griffin:
Next came Paul—the same Paul who was supposed to be on vacation:
Poor Paul Pierce, who just signed with the Clippers, didn’t know what he was doing:
The ocean is big, man, but that didn’t stop Clippers assistant coach Mike Woodson from shaving his entire body, squeezing into a banana hammock—not boat—and swimming to the rescue:
If it’s any consolation to Pierce, future $35 million man Austin Rivers didn’t understand the game, either:
Other people with no real horse in this race eventually crashed the party, because, to be honest, that’s NBA Twitter in a nutshell:
Relive all of the emoji interjections from unaffiliated parties here. (Writer’s note: This trip down memory lane pairs nicely while listening to Taylor Swift‘s Bad Blood, which was No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list for the week of July 4, 2015.)
The Heel Turn Is Complete
Emojis (emojii?) alone did not solidify Jordan’s mulligan. The Clippers had to run interference, all day and into the night, because 25-year-olds need constant supervision:
Just to be safe, Griffin had Clippers owner Steve Ballmer swallow Jordan’s cellphone* so he wouldn’t be tempted to answer last-ditch overtures from Parsons and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban:
Griffin, for his part, played up the “hostage situation” angle:
Then, at long last, the deal got done, and Jordan’s heel turn was complete:
And to prevent any further funny business, Griffin returned to the tent he pitched in Jordan’s front yard, where he stood watch** for 40 days and 41 nights:
*Ballmer probably didn’t swallow Jordan’s cellphone.
**But not really
Nicely done, Dallas Mavericks social media staff. Nicely. Friggin’. Done.
Things weren’t pretty for the Mavericks after whiffing on yet another premier center.
They upped their offer to Wesley Matthews out of good faith; pivoted to Jordan alternatives such as JaVale McGee, Salah Mejri and Zaza Pachulia; turned Raymond Felton and Deron Williams into their most used point guards; and lost Parsons to another season-ending knee injury.
Dallas still won 42 games, good enough for a sixth-place finish in the Western Conference, because head coach Rick Carlisle is a wizard.
What’s happened since then is either better or worse, depending on how you look at it.
Though the Mavericks only racked up 33 victories in 2016-17, they flipped Justin Anderson and two second-round picks for Nerlens Noel—a younger, switchier center with better passing chops who they’ve locked up in restricted free agency. And they parlayed their 2017 lottery pick into Dennis Smith Jr.—a cornerstone prospect at the point guard position who’s basically Eric Bledsoe, only not as locked-in on defense.
Losing Jordan also opened the door for the Mavericks to let Parsons walk in 2016, a genius decision as of now. He appeared in just 34 games during his first season with the Memphis Grizzlies, never regaining his rhythm or mobility, and has three years left on a $94 million contract that ranks among the worst in the NBA.
Maybe the Mavericks have the guts to pass on Parsons even if Jordan is in tow. But maybe they don’t. And if they’re paying Jordan and Parsons, they either have to scale back Dirk Nowitzki‘s legacy deal from 2016-17 or abandon their Harrison Barnes pursuit.
Missing out on Barnes would’t be a huge deal. He’s a surprisingly competent isolation scorer and defender at the 3 and 4 spots, but he’s not a fortune-turner. Still, the Mavericks only wind up better positioned with Jordan if he draws in a 2016 free agent like Nicolas Batum or Mike Conley. Even then, the outlook isn’t as promising or flexible as it is now.
Think about it this way: Striking out with Jordan (and other bigs in 2016) facilitated Barnes’ arrival, the Noel trade, the arrival of a top-10 pick and the option of spending up to $20 million in free agency this summer before having to dump major salary.
Los Angeles Clippers
Winning back Jordan’s affections kept the Clippers on their 50-win, early-playoff-exit treadmill. They’ve gone 104-60 in the two seasons since, with a pair of first-round exoduses fueled in large part by injuries.
What didn’t Jordan’s return do? Rewrite the inevitable.
“We’re right on the borderline,” Doc Rivers told Zach Lowe, then of Grantland, in October 2015. “I have no problem saying that. I’m a believer that teams can get stale. After a while, you don’t win. It just doesn’t work. We’re right at the edge.”
The Clippers have finally nosedived over that edge. Paul orchestrated his extradition to the Houston Rockets prior to the start of 2017 free agency, and Redick followed suit, syncing up the fully processed Philadelphia 76ers on a one-year, $23 million deal.
Jordan’s 180 didn’t buy the Clippers much in the grand scheme of things. The Big Three remained intact for an extra two seasons, but Paul bolted the first chance he got. Now the Clippers are stuck in this gray area, armed with too much talent to bottom out but bereft of the picks, prospects and assets to get the picks or prospects it takes to embrace a full-scale rebuild.
Returning to the Clippers wasn’t a bad decision for Jordan on an individual level. His finishing out of the pick-and-roll has continued to flourish in a way it likely wouldn’t have with the Mavericks. He has never been a more complete player. Since free agency, he’s earned two All-NBA bids, one All-Defensive honor (2016) and an All-Star appearance (2017).
But Jordan’s most valuable safety net is gone, somewhat actualizing concerns he had in 2015. He tried getting confirmation that Griffin planned on sticking around for another contract. Losing Paul is a disaster scenario. The point guard assisted on 28.5 percent of his made baskets since 2011-12.
What comes next is anyone’s guess. Jordan is one year out from free agency again (player option), right around the time he turns 30. Teams were calling the Clippers about Jordan’s availability before the draft, according to Lowe. More inquiries will flood their phones with Paul gone.
That doesn’t mean the Clippers will bite. They won’t. Not at first. They gave Griffin a five-year max, landed Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams as part of the Paul trade and forked over a first-round pick to get Danilo Gallinari on a three-year, $65 million deal. They clearly have designs on remaining relevant now.
Fail to keep pace within the Western Conference’s overcrowded playoff-hopeful ranks, and everything changes. The Clippers have to shop Jordan if only so they don’t risk losing him for nothing.
There is something to say for Jordan once again controlling his own fate in one year. He has increased his stock these last two seasons, setting himself up for another payday, even as the NBA is moving away from non-unicorns at the 5.
At the same time, there’s no way he wanted to be in this position—entering the third year of his contract as trade fodder, on a team with a drastically lower ceiling, unable to envision himself in a Clippers uniform beyond 2017-18.
Emojigate, Part II
Jordan’s hemming and hawing has laid the groundwork for other emoji-crammed happenings. And while his do-over remains the pinnacle, Gordon Hayward’s own free agency incited comparably cryptic and symptomatic reactions.
Early on in the process, as Hayward was making the rounds to the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz, Rudy Gobert ripped off some A-plus visual aids:
Isaiah Thomas, Boston’s master recruiter, responded with his own emotive thoughtz and feelz:
Hassan Whiteside then joined the fracas on behalf of the Heat:
The fun stopped here, making it noticeably less extreme. But remember: This type of bizarro offseason communication and trash talk and recruiting might not exist without Jordan’s ambivalence two years ago.
Indecision is not unique to Jordan. Other free agents have coped with similar uncertainty. Dwight Howard went through identical motions before leaving the Los Angeles Lakers for the Rockets in 2013.
But the social media coverage for Jordan’s walk-back was one of a kind.
And now it’s two of a kind.
Hayward’s decision to spurn Utah for Boston was not without its twist and turns. It was essentially made twice. ESPN’s Chris Haynes first reported the relocation on the afternoon of July 4. His findings were confirmed by colleague Zach Lowe, along with USA Today‘s Sam Amick. All seemed decided…until:
“Gordon hasn’t made a decision yet,” Hayward’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, informed Wojnarowski, now of ESPN.com. “We are still working through it.”
This turned out to be code for “Yes, I’m going to Boston, but y’all aren’t supposed to know because I haven’t yet filed my goodbye piece for The Players’ Tribune, so now I have to convince the world I don’t know what I’m doing to preserve the sanctity of clicks and my relationship with the Jazz organization.”
To the credit of Hayward and his camp, they manufactured ample intrigue and confusion through an hours-long delay. Utah’s team president, Steve Starks, placed his trust his Hayward:
And Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune heard the All-Star forward was genuinely shook:
In the end, Hayward’s farewell dropped on The Players’ Tribune—six paragraphs deep, mind you. The Jazz immediately began moving on, and Haynes was allotted a (well-deserved) victory lap:
This mulligan is different from Jordan’s, because Hayward didn’t move off his initial leanings. But it’s also the same. The NBA’s offseason has mutated into this blur of unpredictability and skepticism, with final decisions profiling as anything but.
Way back in 2015, we might have been innocent and naive enough to think an identically high-profile retraction wouldn’t happen again. This time around, we know better. Something similar might go down next summer.
Maybe DeMarcus Cousins can’t decide between returning to the New Orleans Pelicans or joining the San Antonio Spurs. Perhaps LeBron James flees Cleveland for a Western Conference team, but then remembers his path to 15 straight NBA Finals appearances is much easier in the East. Maybe Paul George and Russell Westbrook abandon the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Lakers, together, only to realize they’ve made a grave mistake and backtrack into Pat Riley’s arms in Miami.
Don’t laugh. Or scoff. Any of this can happen. Nothing is off-limits, or ever final.
Jordan and Hayward have taught us that much.
Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com