When NBA teams, including the Knicks, began scraping high-priced veterans off their rosters in the moments after the trade deadline Thursday, it would not have been a surprise to see DeAndre Jordan’s name added to the list.
In the final year of a contract that pays him $22 million this season, the highly regarded big man with a resumé stocked with honors — rebounding titles, All-NBA and All-Defensive team spots and the highest effective field-goal percentage in NBA history — could have negotiated a parting and spent his final two months of the season with a playoff contender.
Instead, he stood at his locker, the place in the room usually afforded to stars, after Saturday’s loss to the Raptors at Madison Square Garden, leaning toward Dennis Smith Jr. to ask how many games — and losses — he had spent with the Knicks. But what he wasn’t doing was asking for a way out.
“I’m here,” Jordan said. “I got traded here and they wanted me to be here, so I’m excited to play here and that’s what I’m focused on. I’m not focused on anything else right now.”
He may not be, but the Knicks do have one eye on the future. Maybe both eyes actually, working on developing the handful of young players on the roster who might stick around as the rebuild takes shape and also plotting the best way to spend the salary-cap space of more than $70 million that was created with the trade that brought Jordan, Smith and Wes Matthews (who was waived and picked up by the Pacers) to New York.
Jordan can have a hand in that, too. He has a long friendship with Kevin Durant, so he was asked what he thought about Durant possibly coming to the Knicks.
“I hate Kevin Durant,” Jordan said straight-faced with just a trace of a smile. “Just don’t like him. Terrible guy.”
Reporters pushed on, asking if Durant could be a good fit in New York.
“I mean,” Jordan said, “he won two championships with the Warriors.”
Unlike Durant, who lashed out at reporters over the subject last week, when asked what he would tell a potential free agent about the Knicks, Jordan in mock sincerity said, “I like Cabernets more than I like Malbecs, so I also like Italian wine. So I probably have to go with those.”
If he wasn’t going to reveal more about his discussions with Durant than he did when his own free agency a few years back turned into an NBA battle of emojis, Jordan was open about what he can do to help the Knicks right now. His task has been to not only perform on the floor but to impart some of his wisdom to Knicks rookie Mitchell Robinson.
“Any time you can help a player out, especially a teammate, it’s great,” Jordan said. “I’m learning things from everybody else and I feel that’s the beauty of our league, to take things from players old and young and learning. You can never stop learning things about this game and I had a lot of veteran guys who taught me some things and it would be a disservice to them if I didn’t help out other guys.”
“If you go back through Mitchell’s last four games, there’s been a big jump in what he’s doing out there and how he’s doing it,” coach David Fizdale said. “I think tonight was his career high in points , three blocks, three fouls, which has been a big thing for us stressing to him. But again, I think DJ being here has already rubbed off on Mitchell. I thought DJ gave a great effort with the 18 rebounds, 10 points as well. Those two guys, not only are they helping each other but I think it’s going to help our overall team.”