Ballmer Wins Billionaire Battle With Cuban for Free Agent

DeAndre Jordan
DeAndre Jordan Photographer: Scott Halleran/Getty Images
  • Clippers and Mavericks competed for free agent DeAndre Jordan
  • Jordan staying with Clips after verbal commitment to Mavs

The courtship of free agent DeAndre Jordan became a battle of NBA billionaires, and Steve Ballmer emerged as the winner.

Jordan, a free-agent center who led the league in rebounding last season as a member of Ballmer’s Los Angeles Clippers, agreed early this morning to return to the Clippers after committing days earlier to a four-year, $80-plus million contract with Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks.

Jordan’s about-face became official shortly after 12:01 a.m. Eastern time Thursday when the National Basketball Association’s moratorium on player signings and trades ended, and the Clippers send out a Twitter message saying “WelcomeHomeDJ.”

Players and executives from the Clippers stayed with Jordan at his offseason home in Houston until the deadline passed, ESPN reported, preventing Mavericks officials from getting a second chance to woo the player who has spent his seven-year career in a Clippers uniform.

“He is a Clipper through and through,” Ballmer, a former Microsoft Corp. chief executive officer, said in an e-mail.

Cuban in a Cyber Dust message said he hasn’t spoke with Jordan, who averaged 11.5 points and 15 rebounds last season, since Tuesday night. The billionaire also said he told free-agent guard Wes Matthews that he wouldn’t hold the player to his contract commitment if he wanted to sign elsewhere in the wake of Jordan’s reversal. Cuban said Matthews would sign with Dallas.

“I can’t print his response, but suffice to say he is excited to play for our Mavs,” Cuban wrote. “Wes Matthews is exactly the kind of player we want.”

ESPN, citing people it didn’t identify, said Jordan called Clippers President and coach Doc Rivers on Monday to say he was having second thoughts about leaving.

NBA rules allow players to negotiate contracts, but not sign them, giving the league and union time to audit financials and establish a team payroll limit. The salary cap is a percentage of revenue. Contract negotiations can begin on July 1.

Twitter Battle

The pursuit of Jordan had players from both teams joking on Twitter about their travel plans. J.J. Redick of the Clippers, who lives in Austin, Texas, posted a picture of a car on his feed. Chandler Parsons of the Mavericks, meantime, posted a picture of a plane. The Clippers’ Blake Griffin posted a plane, helicopter and car after previously posting a photo of a beach in Hawaii. Clippers assistant Mike Woodson posted a picture of a swimmer.

“This is hysterical,” said Stu Jackson, a former NBA executive and New York Knicks coach who now oversees men’s basketball operations in the Big East Conference. Jackson said the episode will probably have the league and union reevaluating the merits of the signing moratorium.

‘Handshake System’

“If this kid goes back it really does bring into question the process,” Jackson said Wednesday before the deadline. “Teams operating on this handshake system has its perils.”

Ballmer paid a record $2 billion for the Clippers, who were eliminated by the Houston Rockets in the second round of last season’s playoffs. Houston beat Dallas in the opening round.

Teams sent out news of signings within minutes after the end of the moratorium, including the Golden State Warriors announcing the return of forward Draymond Green and the New Orleans Pelicans saying that Anthony Davis had signed a six-year deal in a Twitter message titled “Moratorium period is over! Here we go!”

Jeremy Lin said on his Instagram account that he will sign with the Charlotte Hornets, his fifth team in six NBA seasons. He spent last season with the Los Angeles Lakers, averaging 11.2 points per game.

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