Why Eric Gordon Is Fool's Gold on the NBA Trade Market

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 30, 2014

New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Gordon wamrs up before facing the Denver Nuggets in the third quarter of the Nuggets' 102-93 victory in an NBA basketball game in Denver on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
David Zalubowski/Associated Press

With championship hopefuls officially casting their reels in the NBA trade waters, the New Orleans Pelicans are hoping teams will consider Eric Gordon among the biggest fish.

Pelicans general manager Dell Demps will have his hands full with that sales pitch.

As the Feb. 20 trade deadline rapidly approaches, teams with any win-now aspirations are in the market for roster improvements. Gordon and his career 17.7 points per game scoring average would seem to fit that category.

But whatever trade value he has is built around false hope.

Having a superstar's salary ($14.2 million, via ShamSports.com) but only complementary talent is an issue. Add a checkered medical history to the picture and now there's a problem.

Even Don Draper would have a hard time marketing Gordon at this point.

Locker Room Turmoil

Not that long ago, Gordon seemed destined for superstardom.

A 22-point scorer (and 45 percent shooter) by his third season in the league, he flashed an intriguing mix of scoring and playmaking skills. Intriguing enough, in fact, that he was one of the centerpieces in the package the then-Hornets received in return for perennial All-Star Chris Paul prior to the start of the 2011-12 season.

Well, something must have happened on Gordon's plane ride to the Big Easy. He hasn't been the same player since.

Diminishing Returns: Eric Gordon's Ongoing Decline

He fought the injury bug for the majority of his first season in New Orleans—he missed 57 games of the lockout-shortened 66-game campaign to separate back and knee injuries.

Physically, his body had abandoned him. The ensuing summer his mind checked out of the Bayou.

A restricted free agent in 2012, Gordon reached an agreement on a four-year, $58 million contract offer sheet from the Phoenix Suns. Not completely in control of his future, though, he still did what he could to ensure his exit.

"Phoenix is just where my heart is now," he said, via ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard.

Of course, he'd never make it to the desert. New Orleans ultimately matched the offer, and one of the Association's most awkward marriages was officially forged.

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

His 2012-13 debut didn't come until late December, thanks to recurring knee injuries. He was benched later that season for getting into a sideline screaming match with head coach Monty Williams.

The offseason acquisitions of Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday seemed to have had some miraculous healing powers. Gordon deemed himself healthy and happy at the start of training camp.

If this is what an engaged, healthy Gordon looks like, then New Orleans is in serious trouble

If only the Pelicans had let him bolt in 2012. What a mess they could have avoided.

In The Red

Gordon's problem isn't health anymore—it's production. Or lack thereof, rather.

With him on the floor, New Orleans is being outscored by 4.9 points per 100 possessions. When Gordon sits, the Pelicans have a plus-4.0 net rating, which would be tied for the ninth-best mark in the league.

The Pelicans' defense, the biggest thing keeping them out of the playoff picture, sees the most dramatic change when he's taken out of the equation. New Orleans goes from a top-10 defense (101.4 points allowed per 100 possessions, good for eighth overall) to the league's worst (109.4, the 30th ranked Utah Jazz allow 107.5) simply by giving Gordon floor time.

Jan 28, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters (3) dribbles against New Orleans Pelicans shooting guard Eric Gordon in the third quarter at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Once dynamic off the dribble, he's struggling to find the second gear needed to break down his defender. He's averaging 5.8 drives—a touch that begins 20-plus feet from the basket and ends within 10 feet of the hoop, not including fast breaks—per game, tying him for 35th with Orlando Magic rookie Victor Oladipo.

"Gordon is not the player he once was," Michael Pellissier of BourbonStreetShots.com wrote. "His athleticism still isn’t fully back, and I’m beginning to wonder whether he’ll ever regain the entirety of it."

He's not powerless as a points-producer.

He's enjoying one of the better seasons of his career from beyond the arc, shooting 38.8 percent. His handles haven't gone anywhere, and he's still shown the ability to make big-time plays.

However, his moments of brilliance come fewer and farther between.

He's not someone who can afford to lose offensive quantity, not when opposing shooting guards are posting a 16.4 player efficiency rating against him, via 82Games.com.

There's a reason the Pelicans are reportedly open to moving him. And even more reasons why New Orleans has not and will not find a viable trade partner.

An Uncertain Certainty

Gordon can hear his name swirling through the rumor mill. When someone puts up numbers like his at a pay rate like his, those talks tend to be deafening.

He'd like to get some sort of certainty on the matter, but he's been around long enough to know that won't happen.

"It would be great to have that security to know if you're going to be here or not," he said, via Brett Martel of the Associated Press. "At the end of the day, I can't worry about that. All I can do is worry about trying to win."

Leave the worrying to Demps. Let him try to figure out selling that contract ($14.8 million next season, a $15.5 million player option for 2015-16) for a player who's had attitude and health problems in the past and, oh by the way, doesn't perform nearly as effectively as he used to.

Teams know they won't be trading for the Gordon of old. They'll just be stuck paying him like he's the same player.

Job security isn't supposed to happen like this. This isn't about New Orleans trying to keep him in the picture, it just can't find anywhere to dump him for pennies on the dollar.

If Gordon's the biggest fish in the trade pond, be prepared for a sleepy swapping season.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.


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