DeAndre Jordan heard Jeff Green’s recruiting speech. He spoke at length with Nuggets coach Michael Malone. He saw how great Denver could become when healthy, and he wanted a piece of it.
Shortly after free agency began, the Nuggets and Jordan agreed to a one-year deal for veteran’s minimum wage, league sources said. Entering his 15th season in the NBA, Jordan has no illusions about his role with the team. According to Jordan, Malone was honest and direct with him in several conversations.
“Well, he told me I’m going to come in and do Nikola (Jokic) again,” a deadpan Jordan said in a phone conversation with the Denver Post.
A former All-Star, gold medalist and All-NBA center, the 6-foot-11 Jordan knows those days of those accolades are behind him, but that doesn’t mean he can’t contribute to a team in the pursuit of a championship – the one goal that has eluded him throughout his career.
Green, who first played with Jordan on the Clippers and later on the Nets, sold him on Denver’s selfless environment and the benefits of playing alongside (or in Jordan’s case, behind) Nikola Jokic .
“Obviously everyone knows that Nikola is the snake boss, so with that my role is obviously to come off the bench, help our second unit with pace, screens and open up guys, get better shooting from the guys and also finishing everything I can in transition, offensive rebounds, controlling the glass for our unit, also being a defensive presence for as long as I’m there.
Does that mean he’s comfortable not playing every night if that’s what Malone decides?
His diplomatic response – “It’s something we’ll see when it comes to personnel” – revealed a veteran who knows his place.
Jordan was most recently a member of the 76ers, who followed a short stint with the Lakers after back-to-back seasons with the Nets. His production last season — 4.3 points, 5.5 rebounds — was equivalent to a backup still battling for a spot in the rotation. The Nuggets view him, even at 34, as a rim thrower, screen setter and defensive obstacle. Malone, in particular, appreciates his vast experience and voice.
“It’s just me as a player, as a person,” Jordan said when asked to be candid in the locker room. “Since I was with the Clippers, growing up, I learned from some great veterans to be a great locker room presence even if things weren’t going my way. I’ve done that throughout my career, and I think it’s something I’m proud of.
No, the Nuggets are not trying to recreate the 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets, which featured Jordan, Green and all-around guard Bruce Brown. But familiarity with Jordan helps. As the Nuggets allow him to express himself, it should help that he already has a few established relationships within the organization.
“No, we want to be the 2022-23 Nuggets,” he joked.
Jordan replaces DeMarcus Cousins, who was a productive but mercurial presence last season. In Jordan, the Nuggets will be hoping they have finally landed a center that can stop the revolving door of backup options over the past few seasons.
At this stage of Jordan’s career, his motivation is singular. He has nothing more to prove for him, just one last thing to accomplish.
“I’m going into my 15th year, man, I was a second-round pick, I’ve done a lot of great things in this league, individually and also with the teams I’ve been on,” Jordan said. “I don’t put pressure on myself to have to prove anything. I know the type of player I am. I know the respect I have for myself, and also that my peers have for me… (Winning a title) is the only thing that still motivates me at this stage of my career.