With DeAndre Jordan’s return, Clippers are stronger than ever


Apr 13, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul (3) and center DeAndre Jordan (6) in the second half of the game against the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center. Clippers won 110-103. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Last night, DeAndre Jordan took NBA free agency to a whole new level. And now that he’s returning to the Los Angeles Clippers, along with their new acquisitions of Paul Pierce, Lance StephensonBranden Dawson and Wesley Johnson, their team is the strongest it’s ever been. As after never even winning 50+ games in a season till 2012, and never reaching the Western Conference Finals, the Clippers’ potential for next season has just skyrocketed.

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After verbally agreeing to sign a four-year max deal with the Dallas Mavericks last week, DeAndre Jordan’s change of heart set the basketball world on fire. Emojis from Clippers’ players began to fly, Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin seemed to hold Jordan hostage at his house till he signed a deal, and the Mavericks have been well and truly robbed.

They lost their former starting center Tyson Chandler after he signed with the Phoenix Suns, and believed they’d made one of the best signings of the summer with DeAndre Jordan. But since having second thoughts and deciding to stay where his heart is — in the city where he began his career alongside close-knit teammates — Jordan will be with the Clippers for a long time yet.

According to ESPN, Jordan has now signed a four-year max deal with the Clippers for $88 million, with the chance to opt out after three years. So, seeing as L.A. have gone from having no center to having their All-NBA third team/All-Defensive first team star back, there’s plenty of reason for celebration in Clipper Nation.

And whilst it goes without saying that the Clippers are obviously a far stronger team with DeAndre Jordan’s defense, it’s his return alongside the other improvements that have been made which now put the Clippers in a position for genuine contention.

Not just second round failure type contention, but a realistic possibility at making a run towards the NBA Finals.

Because now that the Clippers have addressed their rebounding, defense and lacking mental toughness, they’ve armed themselves with new additions to tweak their key weaknesses. DeAndre’s dramatic return, however, was just the much needed icing on the cake to not only make the Clippers’ offseason one to remember, but one that will shape their future.

May 17, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan (6) reacts after a play during the second quarter against the Houston Rockets in game seven of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

This season, the Clippers ranked just 15th in defensive efficiency and only 16th in rebounding rate. At the other end of the floor, they had the league’s most efficient offense with 109.8 points per 100 possessions. So it’s clear that they had two areas they needed to focus on this offseason.

Firstly, trading Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes gave the Clippers Lance Stephenson. Of course he had a terrible year with the Charlotte Hornets — after shooting just 17.1 percent from three point range, 37.6 percent from the field and never fitting in with his teammates — but he still possesses the kind of gritty defense and rebounding ability that the Clippers have often lacked. And seeing as Hawes had a dreadful +/- of -14.4 this year, it’s good that L.A. can move on at center.

When Stephenson fully displayed his potential in his final year with the Indiana Pacers during 2013-14, he averaged 14.1 points on 49.1 percent shooting, 7.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists per 36 minutes, while leading the league with five triple doubles. With an excellent influence to learn from in Chris Paul, hopefully L.A. can create the best of Stephenson. His ball handling gives the Clippers another option in their backcourt when Paul is on the bench, and his athleticism and rebounding only benefit their weak defense.

And with the acquisition of Michigan State power forward Branden Dawson through the 2015 NBA draft, the Clippers have got even tougher.

He’s somewhat undersized at 6’7″, but Dawson’s incredible explosiveness more than makes up for it. He excels in transition, has the speed to cover guards, the strength to defend big men, and constantly hustles all over the court. Dawson even led the Big Ten Conference in rebounds per game (9.1), offensive rebounds (102), total rebound percentage (17.9) and defensive rating (91.1).

In short, he’s the kind of dynamic athlete that will fit the Clippers’ fast paced style perfectly, and his will to defend addresses their primary weakness. As a backup to the frontcourt of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, he can provide the Clippers’ bench with a new level of defensive energy. And even if he plays limited minutes for now, he was still an absolute steal after L.A. acquired the pick to take him for just $600,000.

Then comes the Clippers’ next free agent signing of Paul Pierce. Who, even at 37 years of age, can still provide some Truth to a team in need of late game ability and veteran leadership.

May 13, 2015; Atlanta, GA, USA; Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce (34) hits a three point shot for the lead over Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) near the end of the game during the second half in game five of the second round of the NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. The Hawks defeated the Wizards 82-81. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In 26.2 minutes per game this season, Pierce averaged 11.9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 0.6 steals. Just as important as his production, though, is his efficiency. He made 44.7 percent of his field goal attempts and 38.9 percent of his three pointers (the most efficient mark he’s recorded in five years). And whilst having another three point option and dead-eye shooter when games are on the line will help take some of the pressure off Chris Paul, it’s Pierce’s mental toughness and (for lack of a better word) swagger that will help the Clippers.

He was still burying game winners in the playoffs this year (see game three of the Washington Wizards-Atlanta Hawks series), and his knack for closing games will only help add diversity to the Clippers’ offense in the playoffs when a game needs to be decided by one shot. But what’s even more important than that is what he offers as a leader. He won a championship with Doc back in 2008 with the Boston Celtics, and more than most players in the league, Pierce knows how to keep grinding after gruelling wins or devastating losses.

The Truth simply gives the Clippers the mental edge they need. Because no matter how vocal and pumped up CP3 can be, he can always use another leader by his side. Paul Pierce only needs to bring three point shooting, clutch buckets and leadership to L.A.’s starting lineup, and they’re instantly a better team.

Apr 5, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) and center DeAndre Jordan (6) on the bench in the fourth quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center. Clippers won 106-78. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

To complete all the Clippers’ offseason additions, though, and make their new players even more worthwhile, the re-signing of DeAndre Jordan has taken them to another level. As even though Pierce, Stephenson, Dawson and perhaps even Wesley Johnson will all help, it would be for nothing if they lost their defensive anchor.

He’s led the league in rebounding for the last two seasons and his aerial defensive dominance hardly needs much explaining. But the return of his All-Defensive first team talent, 2.2 blocks per game and constant presence in the paint will have Clippers fans crying with joy everywhere.

With Jordan on the bench this year, L.A. endured a net rating of -3.6. However, with him in the game, they led by an average of 11.8 points per 100 possessions and their offensive rating increased by +16.4. That’s the kind of season-altering factor that they reacquired with his change of heart.

With their options at center rapidly depleting, last night’s mayhem saved the Clippers 2015-16 campaign. They do still need to try and find a backup center on a veterans minimum contract if possible, but they now have even more potential heading into next season. As after yesterday’s sudden change of events, DeAndre Jordan once again gives them their defensive foundation, meaning their new acquisitions haven’t been for nothing.

Because whether you think DeAndre Jordan shouldn’t have backed out of his verbal agreement with the Mavericks, or whether you’re just a hyped up, emotional fan, there’s only one thing you need to know:

The Los Angeles Clippers are now the best they’ve ever been.

Next: Should Branden Dawson replace Glen Davis?