DALLAS: About a year ago this time after the free-agency doors opened, the Dallas Mavericks were about as giddy as they’ve been since they captured the 2011 NBA title.
The numerous smiles were the direct result of Dallas securing an oral commitment from center DeAndre Jordan that he was going to leave the Los Angeles Clippers and sign a free agent contract with the Mavericks.
But when it came time to put his signature on a Mavericks contract, Jordan miraculously changed his mind in a bizarre set of circumstances that included his refusal to return any 11th-hour telephone and text messages from Mark Cuban.
Jordan also shut off all communications with Mavericks forward Chandler Parsons, his good friend and the person who had been wining and dining him and recruiting him for six days before free agency started began July 1 of last year.
Cuban drew a $25,000 fine from the NBA after going on a Dallas radio station professing how the Mavericks had lured Jordan. The NBA, of course, viewed such braggadocio as tampering and slapped Cuban with the fine.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers, owner Steve Ballmer, Clippers players Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Paul Pierce and J.J. Redick were among those holed up in Jordan’s home in Houston in the final hours as the NBA moratorium was lifted, paving the way for Jordan to re-sign with the Clippers.
That day was a punch in the gut for the Mavericks and Cuban, who never got an explanation from Jordan on why he couldn’t at least pick up the phone — or text him — and tell him that he was going to renege on his verbal commitment and continue playing for the Clippers.
What did Cuban learn from the biggest free agency disaster of his 16-year apprenticeship as the Mavericks owner?
“Whoever we get a (verbal) commitment from, make them change their Twitter and all their social media and put them in a Mavs uniform,” Cuban said. “That’s what I learned. I am serious.”
The Mavericks are going in a different direction this year by making their push this week in free agency for Miami Heat 7-foot center Hassan Whiteside and Memphis point guard Mike Conley. They also have their eyes on Houston center Dwight Howard.
However, the Jordan debacle of 2015 was costly to the Mavericks in a variety of ways.
While they were sitting idle — taking Jordan at his word that he was going to leave Los Angeles and be the prime-time center in Dallas — Mavericks free agents Monta Ellis and Tyson Chandler left for Indiana and Phoenix, respectively.
Other free agents around the NBA who the Mavericks might have been interested in also found new homes.
Last year teams could begin negotiating with players on July 1, but the moratorium on player signings wasn’t lifted and players couldn’t sign a binding contract until July 9.
Jordan telephoned Rivers on July 6 and told him he was having second thoughts about his verbal commitment to the Mavericks. Still, oblivious to the situation, Cuban went on CyberDust and said of Jordan: “Through all of Monday we were texting back and forth discussing players available, the amount of cap room we had left. Who our staff liked. Who he liked. How excited he was.’’
The next day, lines of communications between Cuban and Jordan oddly came to a halt. So Cuban flew to Houston, and no one answered when he rang the doorbell at Jordan’s home.
Finally, Jordan answered a text from Cuban and said he was on a date. That date was later discovered to be Clippers’ forward Blake Griffin.
As the moratorium clock was winding down, Redick, Griffin, Paul and Pierce were among those who were sending out emojis via social media, capturing and making light of the situation. While that might have been entertaining to some — it lit up Twitter — it infuriated the Mavericks and their fans.
The assembled Clippers played cards and ate at Jordan’s home, and one minute after the moratorium period was lifted on July 9, Jordan signed his contract. That saga officially ended the worst period in Cuban’s ownership this side of the Mavericks blowing a 2-0 lead to Miami in the 2006 NBA Finals.
Apparently, the NBA wasn’t too pleased either, since the Jordan drama led to the league shortening the moratorium period this year from July 1-6. Players can sign on July 7 (or 11:01 p.m. CST on July 6)
To make matters worse, superstar forward Dirk Nowitzki recently said he believes had Jordan stuck to his original words and signed with the Mavericks, that signature could have been the gateway for the team to possibly sign other high-profile free agents this summer such as Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant.
“I think if we would have signed DeAndre last year that might have been a bigger chance now,” Nowitzki said of the Mavericks pursuing Durant.
The strange events of last summer left the Mavs pondering “what if.”
“Obviously we want to take a step forward again,” Nowitzki said. “There’s some names out there that obviously we’d love to have, but we all know how that worked the last few years.”