NBA Free Agents 2012: Why Eric Gordon Isn't Worth a Maximum Contract

Howard RubenContributor IJune 29, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 22:  Eric Gordon #10 of the New Orleans Hornets scores on a layup against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on April 22, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

New Orleans point guard Eric Gordon is not worth a maximum contract, but he just may get it.

The 6'3", 23-year-old fourth-year player was extended a qualifying offer from the Hornets this week, making him a restricted free agent.  As he has said all along, he now can and will listen to offers from NBA teams once the free agency period kicks in at midnight Sunday.

Gordon talked with Times Picayune beat writer John Reid on June 1 after learning that the Hornets would have the No. 1 pick in the draft and take All-American forward Anthony Davis of Kentucky.  “I will still be open with my free agency to hear other opportunities.  But like I said before, New Orleans has a very bright future to be a championship-caliber team soon.”

Hornets management wants Gordon signed to a long term extension and have publicly stated their intention to match whatever top offer he receives from another team this summer. 

Gordon is coming off an injury riddled season in which he played just nine games before undergoing minor knee surgery.  He averaged 20.6 points on 45 percent shooting plus 3.4 assists in those nine games and the Hornets compiled a 6-3 record.

Much like last year when the Golden State Warriors offered center Deandre Jordan $40 million over four years and his L.A. Clippers matched and kept the big center, some team is bound to offer Gordon a boatload of cash to come play for them.  When healthy, the former Indiana Hoosier is one of the league's top scoring point guards with unlimited upside potential.

The question facing the Hornets today is similar to what the Los Angeles Lakers will face a year from now if they still employ Andrew Bynum as their starting center.  Both Gordon and Bynum have struggled with injuries but have also brought the level of their games up to elite status when healthy.  Bynum had an injury-free season in 2011-12 and made his first All-Star team.

Does it make sense to commit so much money to one player as the Hornets strive to improve their fortunes with a mix of young veterans and celebrated rookies? 

A case can be made for Gordon as one of the league's premier shooting guards when healthy.  Rotoworld ranked him the fourth best SG in the league at the start of this past season, behind only Dwayne Wade, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Martin of the Rockets.  He can certainly light up the scoreboard—Gordon has averaged 18.2 points a game over four years, is a consistent 45 percent shooter (37 percent from three-point range) and makes 81 percent of his free throws. 

The Hornets say they want to build their team around Gordon and I understand that.  They have a nucleus of solid players including two good point guards in Jarrett Jack and Greivis Vasquez, forward Carl Landry forward (free agent), small forward Al-Farouq Aminu and Thursday they drafted forward Anthony Davis number one and guard Austin Rivers later in the first round.

Landry made $9 million and as an unrestricted free agent is sure to get more in the open market.  Can the Hornets afford to keep him (they should certainly try) and sign Gordon to a max deal?  And the team could also use some depth on the bench. Where will that money come from if they give most of it to one player?

There are some who will beg to differ with me, but I am not totally sold on Eric Gordon as the centerpiece for the Hornets long term.  There's no questioning his abilities but it's a major risk to go out on a limb after seeing Gordon fall to injury.

Eric Gordon will go to whichever team offers him the most money and security.  For the Hornets, their decision is a gamble regardless of what they do.

I believe they will match any offer. I'm just not sure it's the right thing to do.