DeAndre Jordan’s role has changed considerably in recent weeks.
Jordan, who started 36 of the Nets' first 46 games, has played in only five of the last 10 games for Brooklyn, seeing a combined 88 minutes in the five games. Even before that change of scenery, Jordan was replaced with Nicolas Claxton in the fourth quarter.
When asked about Steve Nash’s message regarding the change in his role, Jordan’s response was a bit awkward. The 32-year-old center said he will continue to stay ready for when his number is called while noting how the change shined light on valuing playing time.
“When LaMarcus came in, he wanted to get LA going. I just continued to prepare and be ready for whenever, if ever, my number was going to be called,” Jordan said. “Obviously, in this league, things change all the time. Rotations change. Lineup changes. As we know, we can’t take the times we play for granted and enjoy this process to not worry about the stuff you can’t control. That’s the way I’m going about it.”
Moving forward, Brooklyn will be without LaMarcus Aldridge, who supplanted Jordan as the starting five and stunned the NBA world by abruptly announcing his retirement after experiencing an irregular heart during and after the Lakers game. Aldridge played and started all five games for Brooklyn, seeing 26.0 minutes per game while averaging 12.8 points and 4.8 rebounds.
With Aldridge out the door, the Nets have Claxton, Jeff Green, Blake Griffin — along with small ball options in Bruce Brown and Kevin Durant — with Jordan in the 5 spot rotation. There is no secret Brooklyn has experimented with lineups throughout the season, implementing 29 different starting lineups - a franchise record - but for the center rotation, Nash said the team will take a matchup-based approach moving forward.
“I think it’s more matchup-based for us,” said Nash about the center rotation. “I don’t think it makes sense to just pencil something in if the matchups aren’t more favorable for us. We look at our fives — DJ, Nic (Claxton), Blake (Griffin), Jeff (Green) — they all bring something different, they all bring slightly different profiles. So I think that is to our advantage to mix and match and to see who — on a night-to-night or matchup basis — gives us what we think is a perceived advantage or the lesser of two evils when we face superstars.”
With Nash unveiling his strategy at the 5 spot, Jordan — who presents the strongest and most traditional center mold out of the Nets center stock — will see limited opportunities moving forward. The veteran center showed he’s the best option currently to defend Joel Embiid in a foreseeable playoff series come postseason, holding the MVP candidate to 13-of-29 shooting and 13 rebounds despite scoring 39 points.
“I thought DJ was really good and did a really good job. Stuck to the game plan and had some good one-on-one possessions with him and stuck to our game plan while doing so,” Nash said following Wednesday’s 123-117 loss to the Sixers.
Brooklyn proved they can play at a high-level when going small, especially of course with a healthy roster. Their small-ball rotations include implementing the skills of Green, Griffin, Brown or Claxton down at the 5. Regardless of when and how much he’s playing, Jordan has his eyes fixed on the ultimate prize - a championship.
“Approach it like a job. I am going to be a pro about it. I’ve supported my teammates and every one of them, regardless if I played 30 minutes or if I don’t play at all,” Jordan said. “I think that’s the thing about being a pro in this league. Obviously, individually, it’s not ideal for me but being on a team, you have to sacrifice and put the team first. I’ve done that night in and night out. I’ll continue to do that because I know what the bigger goal is and the ultimate goal is. That’s for us to reach the pinnacle and get better individually so we can become better as a collective. Hopefully, we take this thing where we want it to go.”
Despite seeing a decreased role, Jordan has received praise from Claxton. The Nets young big understands how difficult it is for the veteran to go from a starter to not playing but commended him for being professional about it ... and imparting “big” wisdom.
“He’s been a pro. He’s really pouring a lot into me telling me things that he sees out there and ways that I can improve. I know it’s tough for him going from being a starter to not really playing but he’s definitely being a professional about it,” Claxton said. “That’s something that takes a lot of someone to do.”
Jordan explained how he’s been getting his reps in since his role deduction to prepare for whatever opportunities arise.
“I’ve been getting a lot of my reps before and after games. (I’m) trying to make sure I’m taking care of myself. Continuing to take care of my body whether it’s strength, conditioning, basketball skill work. Just continuing to make sure I keep myself ready for my job.”
When asked whether the nature of the regular season has helped soothe the adjustment, Jordan said he understands his role, elaborating on how he needs to stay ready in his situation and adapt in the process.
“I just continue to stay ready working with the guys here and working on my own. Just be able to take care of my body and still study the game like I always have,” Jordan said. “This is a situation where you have to be ready for anything. Our lineups have changed so much throughout the season where I started, come off the bench, we gone small - whatever it is - we have to be able to adapt. With the hectic season, everybody is adapting and we’ll continue to do that.”
Jordan is averaging 7.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.2 blocks per game and is shooting a career-best 77 percent overall, helping him retain his record for best shooting big man in league history.