Posted Dec 24 2011 9:28PM
LOS ANGELES -- About an hour before the first of the two exhibition games, and there is finally proof DeAndre Jordan has a robotic side.
I'm just going to play and try to get better.
I will get plenty of help from teammates.
I don't feel any extra pressure.
Extraordinarily fluid for a 6-foot-11, 265-pound center and equally mobile in conversation with a friendliness and quick smile, Jordan is off his game while standing in front of his stall in the Clippers locker room. His is brandishing stock answers and clichés. Worse, he is mostly wrong about having nothing to prove as he enters a season as a starter for the first time.
Nothing other than signing a four-year, $43 million contract topping out at 7.1 points and 7.2 rebounds the previous three seasons. Or that the Clippers traded Chris Kaman to New Orleans in the Chris Paul blockbuster 22 months after Kaman made the All-Star team, leaving L.A. without another true center. Or that Jordan is especially out on that position island now, needing to deliver rather life when production was a team windfall.
The Clippers have gone all-in, financially to be sure after matching an offer sheet from the Warriors early in camp and also in siding with him over Kaman. One season in the opening lineup, in an opportunity that emerged only because Kaman got hurt, and Jordan suddenly has to be permanently dependable.
The good news, for him and them, is that he doesn't have to be great. Playing alongside Blake Griffin only removes every ounce of pressure to become an inside scoring threat. Playing with Paul, Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler as co-starters eliminates the pressing demand to be anything other than 23 years old.
"I'm not going to put any pressure on myself," Jordan said. "I'm just going to come out and play the way I played last year. Obviously I know the year is going to have a lot more expectations from myself at the center spot. But I'm just going to play the way I played last year and get better and contribute as much as I can.
"You guys [the media] may want it to be pressure. But I'm just going to continue to play the way I played. That's why there's 13 other guys on the team that are going to help out. I have to hold my own at the center spot and be our defensive leader and when I get the ball put it in the basket. If I get fouled, go to the free-throw line and knock them down."
It is a perfect fit. The Clippers have enough superstar scorers and auxiliary weapons to absorb playing four-on-five and not throw the ball to Jordan, though he will get 10 points a game just on transition dunks and put-backs. He can run and jump at the same ceiling-scraping level as good friend Griffin, which is saying something, and turn games with defense in a way few centers can match, along the lines of finishing 10th in blocks last season in just 25.6 minutes a game.
Imagine the impact at 35 minutes. The Clippers absolutely have.
"He's going to be a better player this year than he was last year," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "You've got guys that can get him some easy baskets. But his mindset is always going to be on the defensive end -- blocking shots, setting screens, running the floor. All the intangibles that you know he can do. Instead of focusing on what he can't do, let's focus on what he can do to help us win games."
They chose 23-year-old Jordan with a weighty contract over 29-year-old Kaman and having to pay next summer to keep him, potential over proven, difference-maker defender over skilled offensive talent.
It wasn't just how the Paul deal played out either. Jordan came so far so fast last season after being forced into the starting job that Kaman went into summer as a goner. It was only a matter of where and when. Just as any Jordan contract offer as a restricted free agent was going to be matched, leaving only how much money and who would do the contract legwork for the Clippers.
That it turned out to be the Warriors is interesting because the teams play each other on opening night, but Jordan didn't want to leave in the first place. Golden State was merely the front office that handed him the big number to take back to Los Angeles. He stayed, as expected, Golden State kept looking, and now they immediately get to stare at each other as opponents.
Jordan's life has been twisty strange like that lately, from the unplanned opportunity last season to blossoming to convincing the Clippers to invest in him for the future over a 2010 All-Star to opening the new campaign with a lucrative contract and mandatory production on defense. There are expectations now for a former second-round pick. There is pressure, whether he agrees or not.
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