Free agent guard Ben Gordon has agreed to a two-year, $9 million deal with the Orlando Magic, league source tells Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) July 2, 2014
But something doesn't feel quite right about this deal—starting with the fact that the second year is a team option, according to NBA.com's David Aldridge.
Two yr/$9M deal for Ben Gordon (Yahoo! first) has club option for yr two, per sources. Magic want to see if he can get through '14 healthy.— David Aldridge (@daldridgetnt) July 2, 2014
USA Today's Jeff Zillgitt confirmed that, "The second year in the contract is not guaranteed."
While this may simply be about adding some veteran leadership, it could be a precursor to something even bolder.
Stocked as the Magic are with young assets, they're in prime position to create a package that would land them a more veteran star in return. To do so, however, Orlando needs contracts that could be used to match salaries in such a deal.
But: ORL way short of salary floor, and a $4.5m salary is handy trade salary-matching piece. Could also rehab and flip for a 2nd down line— Zach Lowe (@ZachLowe_NBA) July 2, 2014
If I’m not mistaken, Oladipo is their highest-paid player next year at about $5M. If they want to make a trade, they need that Gordon deal.— Andrew Ungvari (@DrewUnga) July 2, 2014
Gordon won't be an especially valuable asset in his own right, but then again, any team taking him on wouldn't be subject to a long-term commitment. If Orlando made a deal around the trade deadline, Gordon's recipient wouldn't be obligated to keep him beyond next season.
Can we be especially certain about Orlando's intentions?
But there's little doubt that this signing gives general manager Rob Hennigan some options. If he wanted the resources to trade for a higher-salaried star, he now has them.
The foundation to any such trade would of course be some of Orlando's valuable youngsters. Even if the team decides it wants to keep premium young talent like Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, it still has a wealth of prospective trade bait, including Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Elfrid Payton, Moe Harkless, Andrew Nicholson and Evan Fournier.
That's a haul of assets around which to build a trade package.
A trade or two could be instrumental in the event Hennigan opts to accelerate the franchise's rebuild. At the moment, it will take some time for its collective talent to blossom. Should ownership grow impatient and desire a more established building block, some of these prospects could be on the move.
It's not a given, but it's a distinctly possible scenario. A more patient approach would entail waiting for the in-house talent to bloom and later isolating remaining needs. A win-now mandate would almost certainly require a trade of some sort.
One natural question at this point is: Why Gordon?
If Orlando simply wanted a veteran in the locker room, surely there are cheaper options. Gordon played in just 19 games last season before the then-Charlotte Bobcats waived him. He averaged a modest 5.2 points per contest on 34.3-percent shooting during that span, hardly the kind of contributions for which you drop $4.5 million per season.
The Magic may view Gordon as something of a reclamation project. He did score a fairly efficient 12.5 points per game in 2011-12 with the Detroit Pistons and a less efficient 11.2 points per game a season later.
If the UConn product can get back to that kind of production, he reasons to be solid sixth-man option for the Magic.
But those are a lot of "ifs" for this kind of money.
That's what makes the trade route seem so likely. Viewed as nothing more than an expiring contract who adds some peripheral short-term value to the locker room, this deal begins to make a little more sense. Gordon isn't an asset in the same sense as all those younger prospects, but his salary-matching potential could make him useful all the same.
One fact that doesn't entirely square with the trade theory is that Orlando could have used Jameer Nelson in a similar respect but waived him instead. Why cut a guy with a tradable, expiring contract only to sign another one?
There are a few potential explanations.
Perhaps Nelson wasn't comfortable with the idea of serving as a sixth man in the near-term. Perhaps he'd tired of being a mentor-like figure on a rebuilding team. Maybe Gordon was more amenable to that kind of job description.
And, for the record, there are probably no imminent plans to make a trade. This is about preserving flexibility should the right deal emerge. The club would be unable to trade Gordon until December 15 anyway, as per the Contractual Bargaining Agreement.
In the interim, Orlando may believe that Gordon is a better fit for a rebuild than Nelson, who had already dutifully put in his time.
Orlando finished last season with a final record of 23-59. Despite flashes of potential, it was obviously a challenging stepping stone for a club that's still fundamentally reeling after Dwight Howard's departure in 2012.
With or without a trade this season, the organization will prioritize player development above all else. Though it's not clear exactly where Gordon fits into all that in the meantime, there's little doubt head coach Jacque Vaughn's focus will remain creating playing time for guys like Oladipo (and now rookies Gordon and Payton).
To the extent Ben Gordon was comfortable with taking a pay day and letting the minutes fall where they may, he's not a bad fit.
And to the extent he doesn't mind being part of a trade package when February rolls around, he may be an even better fit.