LAS VEGAS – DeAndre Jordan didn’t waste his time with the trade rumors that kicked off his summer. He had more important things on his mind, work to do and progress to make no matter what name was on the front of his jersey.
Jordan is still the Los Angeles Clippers’ center. He never made it to Boston, where he was rumored to be heading in a deal that would have included Kevin Garnett, had it ever come to fruition.
This week, there are just three letters splattered across his chest: U-S-A. And Jordan couldn’t be happier with his current assignment, as one of several standout young big men in USA Basketball’s minicamp for the Men’s Senior National Team, or the one that awaits back in Los Angeles with the Clippers and new coach Doc Rivers.
Rivers has already stated that he’s going to raise the bar of expectations for both Jordan and All-Star forward Blake Griffin in every facet imaginable, and that’s something Jordan said he’s looking forward to in his sixth NBA season.
“Once I talked to Doc, I knew what kind of season we were going to have because Doc is definitely a player’s coach,” Jordan said. “He definitely gives you that confidence. I talked to him on the phone for about 15 or 20 minutes that first time and I hung up and I was confident. I was like, ‘yeah, we’re going to win it.’ He’s such a great motivator. I can’t wait to get to work with him.”
The more intriguing prospect is for Rivers, who will be working again with a young and rugged big man still in the early stages of his career the way Kendrick Perkins was in Boston when Rivers took over there. But Jordan is off-the-charts athletically and has the potential to be a defensive menace and a rebounding machine under the tutelage of a coach like Rivers.
He’s drawn the praise of many observers here, including U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski, for his energy and nonstop motor. While no one is playing for an actual spot on a team that will compete this summer, the big man action has been fast and furious in each and every drill and scrimmage.
It’s exactly what Jordan said he needed, this minicamp that feels a lot like a boot camp, an environment that will push him to the max.
“When you are working at home, and no disrespect to them, but guys who are in college or playing overseas or whatever,” Jordan said. “But being here with USA Basketball, this is straight NBA guys or guys you know you’ll see in the league down the road, top of the line, the best young guys in the league and competition everyday. Me playing against DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Derrick Favors, Tyler Zeller, Greg Monroe and Larry Sanders is something I can’t get at home.”
The feeling is mutual.
“He’s absolutely right,” Favors said. “This is the ultimate environment for a big man or any young player. You get a chance to go against the best of the best. You don’t get a second to rest out here. You back off for a moment and somebody is pushing you out of the way. We’re all pushing each other.”
The pushing and shoving will continue for Jordan the minute he leaves here. The work doesn’t end when you’re bent on redeeming yourself for being knocked out of the playoffs in the first round the way the Clippers were against the Memphis Grizzlies.
“We’re solid on paper, but we have to build that chemistry up,” Jordan said. “We’ve got most of our regulars back but we’ve added J.J. [Redick], Jared Dudley and guys like that, just signed B.J. Mullens. We have to get that chemistry and come together a little bit. We’ve just got to get to work.”
As for his own development, Jordan has improved steadily. He had his best year yet last season, averaging a career-high 8.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg and 1.4 bpg in just 24.5 mpg.
That won’t cut it next season, not with Rivers and Chris Paul demanding more and more from the frontcourt tandem of Griffin and Jordan.
“I feel like my progression has been, well, steady. I don’t think I’m going up and down or taking any steps back,” he said. “It might not be as fast as some people want it to be. But as long as i feel like I’m getting better and my teammates feel like I’m getting better and taking the right steps, I’m happy with where I am and the work I’m doing to get to that next level.”