When the Nets took the court for their preseason opener against the Wizards Sunday night at Barclays Center, the focus naturally was on the opportunity to see Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving play together for the first time since they signed as free agents more than a year ago. Durant sat out last season rehabbing a torn right Achilles tendon, and Irving was limited to only 20 games by injuries.
But there was a third player who came with Durant and Irving as part of the free-agent package general manager Sean Marks signed in the summer of 2019, and that is 32-year-old center DeAndre Jordan. When former coach Kenny Atkinson was fired last March, the first thing interim coach Jacque Vaughn did was replace young Jarrett Allen with Jordan as the starting center for the last two games the Nets played before the season was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic last March.
Jordan hasn’t played since then because he contracted the virus before the re-start in July, but new coach Steve Nash had him back in his starting lineup against the Wizards. As a veteran with perhaps the loudest voice in the locker room, Jordan will play a key role in helping a Nets team that is expected to contend for a title develop its identity.
"We have high aspirations and a lot of guys coming back from injury," Jordan said. "We have a new coaching staff, some guys from last year. So it’s been good to come in here, build camaraderie, play as much as we can, gel and play through mistakes and work through new schemes on both sides of the ball to get better."
Many Nets have identified Jordan as the most fun-loving veteran on the team, a person who sets the tone on the court and in the locker room. Even Nash admitted Jordan frequently makes him laugh.
"We have a pretty quiet team, so it’s great to have someone with DJ’s personality who is not quiet and talks," Nash said. "He’s a welcome personality in an otherwise fairly chill group. He brings that extra energy high every day with that personality that’s a little bit different from the rest of the group. So we need him for that alone, and he definitely is worth a few laughs every day."
Explaining his approach, Jordan said, "I think that’s just me as a person. We’ve got a lot of great basketball minds in here, players, coaches, everybody who can contribute things that they say, different vantage points. So I just want to come and be a great veteran leader for our guys and keep them light-hearted, especially when we’re going through the ups and downs of the season."
Nash said the rim protection Jordan and Allen provide will be crucial in allowing perimeter defenders to extend defensive pressure to the three-point line. On offense, the centers figure to play a critical role in pick-and-roll offense with both Durant and Irving. But there will be times when neither is on the floor and Nash goes with Durant or veteran Jeff Green as a small-ball center.
However it all works out, Jordan admitted he is like everyone else — he can’t wait to see Durant and Irving on the floor together. "I’m super-excited for those guys to get back on the floor," Jordan said. "Those guys are super-skilled, great, smart guys when it comes to schemes and seeing plays develop on both ends of the floor. Those guys are our leaders, and we want to follow what they’re doing and back them up throughout the season. We can’t put a lot of pressure on those guys and hope they take us to the promised land. It’s going to take [everybody] on the roster."