Clippers fans may go through this week feeling like things can’t be worse. They’d be wrong.
In the wreckage of an historic collapse and failed season, one that came to its brutal finish in a 113-100 defeat at the hands of the Houston Rockets Sunday night in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals, the Clippers have an equally big problem — keeping center DeAndre Jordan.
All season, multiple sources say, a growing schism emerged between Jordan and point guard Chris Paul, and it could contribute to Jordan’s decision to stay or go as a free agent.
Sources say Paul’s well-known edginess and drive ground on Jordan’s nerves for much of the year. Contributing to the problem was Paul’s view that Jordan lacked the appropriate commitment to working on his free throws, including not working enough with the Clippers shooting coach on that issue, sources said.
"Things aren’t good there," a league source familiar with the inner workings of the Clippers organization said. Asked if the issues between the two were serious, the source said, "Oh yeah. (Jordan) might leave. He really might."
Jordan, who will be an unrestricted and highly coveted free agent this summer, has emerged as one of the league’s premier defenders. He averaged 11.5 points and 15.0 rebounds per game this season, making him the NBA’s leading rebounder. He was third in the NBA in total blocks, first in field-goal percentage, third in true shooting percentage and seventh in minutes played.
He is, in short, indispensable to the Clippers. As he would be to whatever other team lucky enough to have him.
It’s certainly not a sure thing that Jordan leaves. But the Clippers do not enjoy the home-court advantage they should have in Jordan’s free agency. Paul is apparently as talented at making his teammates better as he is surprisingly capable of getting on their nerves.
Sources — including two friends of Paul — say he does wear on his teammates but only because he cares deeply about winning and carries himself as much as a coach as a point guard. The league source familiar with the Clippers organization says both players are great teammates — only, often this season, not with each other. That’s why, the source says, the Dallas Mavericks — considered a major player in the Jordan sweepstakes — could have as good a chance to land Jordan as the Clippers.
On Sunday night, after the loss that sent the Rockets to the Western Conference finals and the Clippers to an offseason to ponder how they let a 3-1 series lead and huge Game 6 advantage slip away, Jordan said his mind wasn’t yet on free agency.
Maybe not. But often this year it’s been on Paul and the fact he’s grown less than sure he will continue to play with him.
Bill Reiter is a columnist for FOXSports.com, a radio host in Los Angeles and regularly appears on FOX Sports 1. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.