PLAYA VISTA, Calif. — New Clippers coach Doc Rivers said Monday that center DeAndre Jordan will have an increased presence in the fourth quarter this season. Or to put it another way, Jordan will have a presence.
He played and started in 82 games in 2012-13 … and watched the end of most of them. His free-throw shooting could not be trusted down the stretch (this is not a misprint: 38.6 percent), his inconsistent play could not be tolerated, and so Jordan went from the opening lineup every night to seeing action in the final period all of 30 times. He played 148 minutes total in the fourth quarter, or 1.8 per game averaged over the 82 appearances.
That was last season with Vinny Del Negro as coach.
This was Monday with Rivers beginning his first Clippers training camp: “I tend to want to stay big at the end of games, so he’ll be on the floor a lot.”
Opponents will try to make Rivers pay by fouling Jordan in close games and generally taking advantage of being able to put five defenders on four Clippers. But there was little doubt in the message delivered during Media Day: Jordan will be used differently now. Whether he capitalizes on the new opportunity or continues with the inconsistent ways of the past will largely determine how far they go in the playoffs.
“Oh, I think it’s huge for us,” Rivers said. “I think he will be consistent. I’m looking at DeAndre Jordan as an All-Defense player. I think he should be on the All-Defense team. I think he should be a candidate to win the Defensive Player of the Year award. And that is going to require consistency for him to do that. We need him to be the captain of our defense, so I’m putting a lot on his plate. All the other stuff will take care of itself. If he does that job, I’m not that concerned about everything else.”
Where does this confidence come from?
“I’ve seen his body,” Rivers said. “I don’t know if it was a year ago or two years ago, playing against him, I looked him and I thought, ‘Man, this kid should dominate defensively.’ I wasn’t here last year. I don’t know what happened with that. I can say this: He was focusing on offense, trying to be defense. He was focused on a lot of stuff. All I’m trying to do is narrow his focus. I’m trying to make it easier for him.”
Chris Paul signed his new contract in the summer, Blake Griffin had his first non-injury, non-lockout offseason, Rivers was hired away from the Celtics to flash his championship ring around as unique coaching credibility in the locker room. Now, Jordan becomes the question and arguably the primary question, actually.
The difference between Jordan reaching his potential as a rim-protector and rebounder that his lack of offense doesn’t matter and Jordan as a frustrating tease could end up as the difference between the Clippers as legit contenders to win the West or another letdown finish.
It can’t just be Jordan on the court in the fourth quarter because he is big, after all. It has to be Jordan there because he has become the permanent factor that began to emerge a few seasons ago, only to be replaced by the 2012-13 version.
“I know that defensively, it starts with me down there and I have to communicate to my teammates,” Jordan said, embracing the expectations. “But I have to set an example as well. Defense my main priority and offense is going to come second. I’ll let these guys” — noting the presence of Paul and Griffin with him on stage — “handle that. I’m confident. He (Rivers) makes me even more confident. So do my teammates. Its going to take me going out there to play the right way and help our team win.”
The chance to show it will begin in about a month with a schedule run that is an amazing coincidence as a series of proving grounds for both centers. The Oct. 29 opener is against the Lakers as they try to move beyond Dwight Howard with Pau Gasol or Chris Kaman starting. The second game is against the Warriors with Andrew Bogut wanting a good start to the season as an immediate statement of how good he can be when healthy. Then, the Kings and DeMarcus Cousins fresh off his $62-million extension. After that, Howard and the Rockets.
Jordan has the new chance. Now he has to prove he should stay on the court.