Doc Rivers gave a quick answer when asked about DeAndre Jordan coming back to the Los Angeles Clippers.
"He never left," the coach said.
Technically, that's true.
The Dallas Mavericks might disagree as they reel from the fallout of Jordan's Texas two-step, which renewed the debate about when a deal is a deal, and whether change is needed to the NBA's moratorium period.
"From afar, it's a little bit concerning from a team perspective just because of the precedent. You'd like to think when you look somebody in the eye and shake their hand and say, 'We have a deal,' that you have a deal," Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said Thursday.
"But at the same time, you understand that the way the rules are written from the current moratorium structure, the agreements aren't binding until the player puts pen to paper and signs a contract."
The moratorium, starting July 1 and lasting until the salary cap is set for the coming season, could be a hot topic now at NBA meetings in Las Vegas next week. The National Basketball Players Association said it supports the right of both players and teams to consider their options during the moratorium, which is scheduled to last 11 days next year.
Hey, could be worse. It lasted all of July when first implemented in 1999.
"Everybody realizes it's something that has to be looked at," Brooklyn general manager Billy King said.
Jordan formally re-signed with the Clippers on Thursday, ending one of the strangest sagas in recent free-agent history. He verbally committed to the Mavericks on Friday, then a Clippers contingent arrived at his Houston home Wednesday for what apparently was a last-ditch push to keep him, and the Mavericks lost their man.
A handshake deal, in this case, was no deal.
"We all walk into these conversations understanding that as with any business contract, it's not a deal until the paper is signed," union spokeswoman Tara Greco said.
Dallas owner Mark Cuban was predictably unhappy. He got fined $25,000 by the NBA earlier in the week for raving about what Jordan would mean to the Mavericks — he violated a rule of the moratorium by talking about a player who wasn't under contract — then wound up not getting the deal signed.
Cuban turned to social media to vent, never mentioning Jordan by name.
"I don't think the time is right to say anything beyond the facts that he never responded to me at all yesterday," Cuban wrote on the Cyber Dust messaging app. "Not once. To this minute I have not heard anything from him since Tuesday night."
That was one of the biggest talking points around the league Thursday: It wasn't so much thatJordan changed his mind, but apparently no one actually told the Mavericks when the rest of the NBA world seemed to be following it in real time on Twitter.
Rivers flatly said "no" when asked if Jordan should have told Dallas of his change of heart. Not everyone agreed.
"I don't see anything wrong with changing your mind, but you need to be a man and just tell them why you decided," Miami guard Goran Dragic told The Associated Press.
It's impossible to say how much of a domino effect Jordan's last-minute flip affected free agency for other franchises and players. If he had announced early he was staying with the Clippers, teams — including the Mavs — may have changed their strategies.
At least six quality big men agreed to deals with other teams after Jordan committed to Dallas, so it's a safe bet there was at least some ripple effect in the market from there.
"I think any time something like this happens, there's always going to be talk and there's always going to be talk about rules being changed and things like that," said Tyson Chandler, who left Dallas for Phoenix. "But it was a verbal agreement, so he had the option to change his mind. That was his decision as a man and that's something he'll have to stand with."
Former NBA executive Stu Jackson wrote on Twitter that change to the moratorium system "is imminent," though nothing is currently planned.
The league views the moratorium as a way to ensure that multiple teams can talk to players, rather than one swooping in when the market opens — or earlier, if not playing by the rules — and locking him up immediately.
"The moratorium period fairly benefits both NBA teams and players by providing the time to have whatever discussions they deem necessary and the opportunity to consider multiple options before entering into binding agreements," league spokesman Mike Bass said.
Free agency started July 1, and players can agree to deals at any time after that window opens. But they could not become official until 12:01 a.m. Eastern time Thursday — the start of the new league year.
"We have to look at it and maybe start the signing, everything starts the same time when the moratorium ends rather than starting July 1," King said.
The Clippers announced at 12:05 a.m. Thursday that they were keeping Jordan, releasing a tweet saying, "We're officially centered."
"The rules have been the rules for a while now," Orlando GM Rob Hennigan said. "I don't think this is the first time that something like this has happened. But that doesn't mean that it shouldn't be looked at."