DeAndre Jordan is a three-time All-NBA center who has averaged double digits in points and rebounds for the past eight seasons, but he was in the small print on June 30 when the Nets landed maximum-salary free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Signing those two was a major coup for the Nets, but Durant and Irving insisted on bringing along Jordan, who got a four-year deal worth $40 million because Durant (four years, $164 million) and Irving (four years, $141 million) structured their contracts in a way to create cap space for Jordan.
Durant isn’t expected to play this season while recovering from Achilles tendon surgery, and Irving is off to a slow start because of facial fractures. But Jordan easily might become the Nets’ X factor.
Third-year center Jarrett Allen averaged 10.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.5 blocks last season and is regarded as a key component for the Nets’ future. But he struggled against physical centers, especially Sixers center Joel Embiid in a 4-1 first-round playoff loss, and that’s where the 6-11, 265-pound defensive presence of Jordan might come in handy. Coach Kenny Atkinson already has said he will consider playing the matchup game.
“We’ll see what happens, but as long as we’re winning games, we’re going to have each other’s backs regardless,” Jordan said. “I think that [Allen] has done a great job. Some guys are more physical than other guys, some guys are bigger and stronger than other guys.
“In those situations, we’ve got to use our advantages and try to figure out a way to make it work. As long as we’re winning games, I don’t think anybody is going to worry about individual stats.”
Allen reacted to the Jordan signing by stating emphatically that he wants to start. Jordan last came off the bench in the 2010-11 season. Something has to give, and it’s obvious Atkinson will employ both centers in equal doses. Allen is a lithe shotblocker with speed to defend, and he is adept in the pick-and-roll offense. Jordan is a force under the boards, and Allen said that, when they are banging, Jordan doesn’t seem like a 31-year-old man.
Jordan struggled last season dividing time between the Dallas Mavericks and Knicks, but he seems rejuvenated by the chance for success with the Nets. “It’s a different environment,” Jordan said. “With this team being in the playoffs last year, we have those expectations plus more.
“In Dallas, it was a fun situation. Luka [Doncic] was a great player to play with, but we didn’t make the playoffs. Maybe we didn’t have enough time, and with the Knicks, our record didn’t reflect that. I wanted to be back in a situation where we could excel and possibly make the postseason again. They had already done that, and I felt like adding those pieces to this situation was the best spot for me.”
As for the chances taken by Durant and Irving to re-structure their contracts in a way to allow the Nets to sign him, Jordan obviously is grateful to be the third wheel. “In any situation in order to excel and reach the pinnacle with a group of people, there have to be sacrifices,” Jordan said. “I think that everybody has made sacrifices, and we’ll reap those benefits later.”
In the end, all three superstars feel the Nets have the ingredients to contend for an NBA title once Durant is healthy. As Jordan said, “They had a great team last year. Just us realizing that, if you add a little bit more, it can go a little bit farther with us jelling together and guys getting better over the course of the season. You don’t really get opportunities like this, so we wanted to take advantage of it."