DeAndre Jordan heard the recruiting pitch from Jeff Green. 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 started, the Nuggets and Jordan agreed on a one-year deal for a veteran’s minimum salary, league sources said. Entering his 15th season in the NBA, Jordan is under no illusions about his role with the team. According to Jordan, Malone was honest and direct with him during several conversations.
“Well, he told me that I’m gonna come in and start over Nikola (Jokic),” Jordan deadpanned during a phone conversation with The Denver Post.
A former All-Star, gold medalist and All-NBA center, the 6-foot-11 Jordan knows the days of those braces are behind him, but that doesn’t mean he can’t contribute to a team chasing a championship — the one goal that’s eluded him throughout his career.
Green, who played with Jordan first on the Clippers and later on the Nets, sold him on the selfless environment in Denver and the benefits of playing alongside (or in Jordan’s case, behind) Nikola Jokic.
“Obviously everybody knows that Nikola is the head of the snake, so with that, my role being obviously coming off the bench, helping our second unit with pace, screens and getting guys open, getting guys better shots and also finishing everything that I can in transition, offensive rebounds, controlling the glass for our unit, also being a defensive presence for however long I’m out there.”
Does that mean he’s comfortable not playing every night if that’s what Malone decides?
His diplomatic answer — “That’s something we’ll get to when it comes to personnel” — revealed a veteran aware of his place.
Jordan was most recently a member of the 76ers, which 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 — amounted to a backup still fighting to carve out a spot in the rotation. The Nuggets view him, even at 34, as a rim-roller, screen-setter and defensive obstacle. Malone, in particular, values his vast experience and his voice.
“That’s just me as a player, as a person,” Jordan said when asked about being outspoken in the locker room. “Ever since I was with the Clippers, in my younger days, I learned from some great veterans about being a great locker room presence even if things weren’t going my way. I’ve done that throughout my career, and I think that’s something I’ve prided myself on.”
No, the Nuggets aren’t trying to recreate the 2020-21 Brooklyn Nets, which featured Jordan, Green and versatile guard Bruce Brown. But the familiarity for Jordan helps. As the Nuggets empower him to speak up, it should help that he’ll already have a few established relationships inside the organization.
“Nah, we want to be the 2022-23 Nuggets,” he quipped.
Jordan replaces DeMarcus Cousins, who was a productive yet mercurial presence last season. In Jordan, the Nuggets hope they’ve finally landed on a center who can halt the revolving door of backup options the last few seasons.
At this stage in Jordan’s career, his motivation is singular. There’s nothing more for him to prove, only one last thing to achieve.
“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 that I’ve been on,” Jordan said. “I don’t put that pressure on myself to have to prove anything. I know the type of player that I am. I know the respect that I have from myself, and also that my peers have for me … (Winning a title) is the only thing that still drives me at this point in my career.”