DeAndre Jordan, good friend of Kevin Durant, stuck around New York past the trade deadline.
Despite being an obvious candidate for a buyout like the waived duo of Wesley Matthews and Enes Kanter, Jordan remains the Knicks’ starting center and a rebounding machine.
So did he want to be here?
“I’m here,” he responded.
To Jordan’s credit, he’s still tackling his playing time with tenacity. And the 30-year-old former All-Star is easily the most accomplished player on the Knicks’ roster. But his presence serves two purposes beyond the production on the court: publicly, the Knicks are pitching him as a mentor to rookie Mitchell Robinson. Privately, they hope he can be an ally in their recruitment of Durant.
Jordan has always been a bit of a joker, and that’s how he entertained questions about the 2019 top free agent.
“I hate Kevin Durant,” Jordan joked after scoring 10 points with 18 boards in Saturday’s loss to the Raptors. “Just don’t like him. Terrible guy.”
In reality, Jordan and Durant are such good friends they vacationed together in Europe a few years ago. Jordan was also part of the failed recruitment of Durant to the Clippers in the summer of 2016. Many believed Jordan was the main reason the Clippers were one of six teams to secure a meeting with the Durant, who ultimately chose the Warriors.
The Knicks never got a meeting because, as Durant put it at the time, “I didn’t feel like it.” But they’ll be in the mix this summer.
Asked what he might sell to a free agent about the Knicks, Jordan steered the conversation to wine.
“I like cabernets more than I like Malbec so I also like Italian wine,” he said. “So I probably have to go with those.”
Of course, Jordan’s own future with the Knicks is uncertain.
In order to qualify for a playoff roster, he has to be waived and signed by another team by March 1.
The Knicks (10-45) are not making the playoffs, but will have a mid-level exception to offer Jordan in the summer. And if his time is short-lived, he’s being treated well during his time in New York and might relay that to Durant. Whereas Kanter was benched for the sake of player development, Jordan was given the starting job from Day 1 and supplanted Luke Kornet in the rotation.
And Jordan seems to have already had a positive impact on the 20-year-old Robinson, who Saturday went off for a career-high 15 points with seven rebounds and three blocks.
“If you go back through Mitchell’s last four games, there’s been a big jump in what he’s doing out there and how he’s doing it,” coach David Fizdale said. “I think DJ being here has already rubbed off on Mitchell. I thought DJ gave a great effort with the 18 rebounds, 10 points as well. Those two guys, not only are they helping each other but I think it’s going to help our overall team.”
Jordan, who was acquired from the Mavericks in the deal for Kristaps Porzingis, is embracing that role.
“Anytime you can help a player out, especially a teammate, it’s great,” Jordan said. “I’m learning things from everybody else and I feel that’s the beauty of our league to take things from players old and young and learning. You can never stop learning things about this game and I had a lot of veteran guys who taught me some things and it would be a disservice to them if I didn’t help out other guys.”