Now that the Cyber Dust has settled on DeAndre Jordan’s business decision/change of heart/hostage crisis (you know, that bizarre saga that set Twitter aflame and reshaped the course of two NBA franchises over a span of about 12 hours), a few things have become clear.
The first is that Jordan’s decision to renege on his agreement with the Dallas Mavericks, which at the time earned him all sorts of flak, doesn’t seem like the referendum on his character so many made it out to be. You have to step out of the NBA vacuum for a second, but if you think about what Jordan did in the context of any other business, it was hardly unusual.
By rule, teams and free agents can’t officially agree to contracts during the annual moratorium that, this year, spanned the first nine days of July. They can talk parameters, wine and dine, enjoy each other’s company — that sort of thing. But they can’t put pen to paper on a contract.
What Jordan and the Mavs had was essentially a handshake agreement — one Dallas definitely relied upon to its detriment (it has since used the money earmarked for Jordan on Deron Williams, Zaza Pachulia and a bump in pay for Wesley Matthews and J.J. Barea), but not one that officially tied the two together.
Jordan changed his mind, and though the specifics of how that happened are the source of much speculation (Did the Clippers come to him? Did he go to them? Did Chris Paul promise he’d start acting more like Cliff?), the point is that he was free to do so. And if he’d been buying a house, leasing a car, committing to a college or negotiating terms of employment in any other field, he would’ve been free to do exactly that.
Because he hadn’t signed anything binding.
Did this whole thing screw the Mavs? Yep.
Did it make Jordan look a little emotionally immature? Maybe.
Should Jordan have been more transparent with his thoughts? Perhaps let the Mavericks in on what he was thinking sooner? Out of courtesy, probably.
But did it present Dallas with a situation that was totally unforeseeable? Should the Mavs have been caught off guard with no backup plan?
That’s on them.
And it’s on Cuban, who has made billions of dollars with his various businesses — most of which, you’d have to think, treat handshake agreements and official contracts as very different things. This was a deal that went sideways at a late stage in the game. Cuban’s seen that happen before, probably hundreds of times. He gets it.
Which brings us to the second thing that now seems clear in the aftermath of the Jordan-Mavs-Clips saga: There’s nothing wrong with the moratorium.
Though his team just suffered the worst imaginable outcome, Cuban’s cool with it. “They (sic) are still a few unresolved issues that the NBA will have to work through, but one I don’t feel is an issue is the moratorium,” he said.
It’s compelling that the party most wronged by the moratorium doesn’t see a need to change it. But the real reason the league should consider keeping the status quo is that it put the NBA at the vanguard of the sports news cycle at a time that should’ve been, by definition, a dead period. That’s what a moratorium is, after all: a ban on activity, a halt, a freeze, a standstill.
The NBA has done well to stay relevant during the offseason. The Finals give way to free agency, followed by Summer League. Before you know it, players are back in camp, and the season kicks off. Already, free agency piques as much fan interest as the actual games. Probably more in the cases of fans whose teams aren’t competitive during the year.
Now that the league has seen how nine supposedly inactive days in July can capture the rapt interest of millions of fans, it’ll have to think long and hard before changing the rules to prevent another situation like Jordan’s. If anything, more 11th-hour fiascos like Jordan’s would be good for the NBA — another reason to pay year-round attention.
Commissioner Adam Silver says there are no plans to shake things up, but I’m not sure he’s signed anything official on the issue.
Here’s hoping he doesn’t change his mind.