When the Lakers won the title in 2019-20, they did so with a frontcourt shaped around physicality, size and athleticism in JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard alongside Anthony Davis. The franchise moved away from that model last season, bringing in Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell to replace McGee and Howard, who left in free agency.
But after an underwhelming season both in general and from the frontcourt, Los Angeles appears to be going back towards a model that worked.
The Lakers sent out Harrell in the trade to land Russell Westbrook and re-signed Howard. With McGee signing in Phoenix, the Lakers appear to be looking elsewhere for a player of a similar archetype. And on Monday, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that the Brooklyn Nets and DeAndre Jordan were working on a contract buyout for the final two years and nearly $20 million left on his deal.
Center DeAndre Jordan and the Nets are working toward parting ways via contract buyout, sources tell me and Alex Schiffer. Jordan is increasingly unlikely to be part of the organization moving forward, but the sides have not made a final decision. Jordan did not appear in the Nets’ last 16 games of the 2020-21 season and playoffs.
Even prior to that report, though, was a different one from Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report indicating the Lakers would be a team interested in Jordan if he was bought out.
One suitor to keep an eye on, sources said, should DeAndre Jordan and the Brooklyn Nets reach a contract buyout: the Los Angeles Lakers.— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) August 30, 2021
As Charania noted, Jordan had an up-and-down season in Brooklyn that saw him play in 46 of the team’s first 48 games, averaging 7.5 points and 7.2 rebounds in 22.2 minutes per contest in that span. However, over the final 36 regular season and playoff games, Jordan played just 11 times, and didn’t see the court for a single second in any of Brooklyn’s 12 postseason contests.
It was a move away from Jordan done in favor of playing Blake Griffin and Nic Claxton more minutes at the center position, players either younger (Claxton) or more diverse in skillset (Griffin) than Jordan.
From a per-36 minutes standpoint, Jordan has taken a step back, but not a big one. While his raw numbers are slightly down in terms of points and rebounds, he still remains a hyper-efficient scorer, shooting a career-best 76.3% from the field last season, albeit on just 4.4 attempts per game.
Around the rim, though, Jordan remains an elite finisher. Per Synergy, he was in the 99th percentile on 220 field goal attempts around the basket. Of players with at least 100 shots around the basket, no one ranked higher than Jordan’s 1.564 points per possession.
But Jordan isn’t the same hulking force he was across the hallway in Los Angeles. Prior to his stint with the Nets, his play had dipped so much in Dallas that the team quickly parted ways with him after years of chasing the big man. He remained with the Knicks after a midseason trade as a hopeful bargaining chip in free agency to land Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Eventually, that pairing helped him land a spot in Brooklyn, but it’s been a tenuous journey since. Jordan battled with Jarrett Allen for minutes in his first year before doing the same with Claxton and Griffin in his second. As the NBA has shifted to a small-ball era, Jordan has seen his minutes per game decrease every season since 2013-14.
Jordan, though, is not simply a victim of circumstance. Last season, the Nets had a 114.8 defensive rating with Jordan on the court, the worst among rotation players. He also posted a minus-1.9 net rating. With him off the court, those figures improved to 110.8 and 7.2, respectively.
In short, there’s a reason the Nets are discussing a buyout. At the same time, there’s a reason the Lakers are interested. The situation in Los Angeles is much different than that in Brooklyn when it comes to playing style. Centers alongside Davis and LeBron James have very simplified responsibilities on both ends of the court. Russell Westbrook would, on paper, only make that job easier for big men.
Jordan’s rumored arrival also seems to add more fuel to the notion the Lakers are looking to move on from Marc Gasol as well. Gasol’s time in Los Angeles is more remembered for off-court drama than on-court production, through little fault of his own. After being benched for a stretch of games in the middle of the season, a less-than-pleased Gasol contemplated asking for a buyout before opting to stick it out with the Lakers.
Gasol was a part of the Lakers starting lineup early in the season that, when healthy, was one of the best 5-man groupings in the league. But by season’s end, he was more liability than asset for the Lakers in the postseason, particularly on the defensive end. While it never felt like the Lakers fully unlocked what Gasol could provide offensively, it appears the team is ready to move on from him rather than explore those possibilities.
Instead, the Lakers could be looking to replicate a formula with a proven success rate in adding athletic big men around Davis, James and Westbrook, assuming Jordan does come to Los Angeles. It’s a risk, but one that helped lead a team to a title before, and one the Lakers appear hopeful will pay similar dividends this season.