After agreeing to trade a first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for center Omer Asik, the Pelicans have to free up cap space to fit the big man's salary ($8.4 million against the cap, $15 million total). Some of their options include signing and trading free-agent shooter Anthony Morrow or finding a suitor for core pieces such as Austin Rivers, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans.
None of those moves offer the short-term and long-term benefits that trading Gordon does. Nearly two years later, the decision to match the Phoenix Suns' four-year, $58 million offer to retain the former Indiana Hoosier has become the worst move of general manager Dell Demps' career.
In three seasons with the Hornets/Pelicans, Gordon has played all of 115 games (out of a possible 246) due to a variety of injuries. During that span, he's been paid close to $32 million. In his defense, he did manage to lead the team in scoring in two of those three seasons.
This year, he'll make just under $15 million and has a $15.5 million player option for 2015-16 (which I think he'll decline, but more on that later). He also may lose his starting job to last year's offseason acquisition, Evans.
In his season-ending press conference back in April, head coach Monty Williams hinted at a possible switch at shooting guard (per NOLA.com's John Reid):
It's going to take some conversations with me and the staff to try and figure out what's best for the team. I don't want to speculate but it is part of the equation. But I have thought about Tyreke in a starting role. For whatever reason, it clicks for him. When you look at Tyreke and his effectiveness as a starter, you can't just sneeze at that.
The idea of a $15 million sixth man is a tough pill to swallow. You then factor in Gordon's inability to stay healthy. After that, there's New Orleans' glaring hole at small forward and the need for quality depth behind a promising starting rotation.
When you add all of that together, you get a clear understanding that Gordon needs to go.
How Trading Gordon Benefits the Pelicans
The Pelicans have around $56.5 million committed to nine players for next season (if you include forward Luke Babbitt). Obviously, Asik isn't factored into that number since he isn't officially on the roster yet. The salary cap for this upcoming season is $63.2 million (with a tax level of $77 million).
When you subtract the $56.5 million from the $63.2 million cap, it leaves New Orleans with about $6.7 million to play with. If you want to leave out Babbitt, that number only moves up to just under $7.7 million.
Now, that amount of space doesn't mean Gordon has to be the one to be moved, but trading him and taking minimal salary back certainly opens up the most possibilities. If Gordon is somehow traded for picks and his contract is off the books, that would give the Pelicans around $22 million of cap room.
Even if they take back a lesser contract like, say, the $6.6 million left on Jason Richardson's deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, that still leaves the Pellies with about $15 million to spend. That means fitting in Asik, re-signing Morrow and possibly chasing a small forward like Phoenix's P.J. Tucker.
Would you trade a potential oft-injured backup shooting guard for the chance to fill three spots with quality players? Of course you would.
Those are just the financial benefits. Now, let's think about the other positives. Let's say Evans does indeed beat out Gordon for the starting shooting guard spot. How do you think that sits with Gordon the rest of this season?
Remember how Gordon bristled at the mere idea of coming off the bench when Williams' comments were brought to his attention in May?
"I won't get into that because I thought they brought me here to lead and set the tone for the team," Gordon said (per the aforementioned Reid article).
Do you think he's not going to sulk the entire time he's in his new role? After all, this is the same guy who claimed, as relayed by ESPN's Chris Broussard, "Phoenix is where my heart is" prior to New Orleans matching the Suns' offer in 2012. He's never been overly enamored with playing in the Big Easy.
So, if Gordon loses to Evans and spends his days moping around the locker room, how do you think that affects the chemistry of a young team with playoff aspirations and few veteran leaders on the roster? If you take Gordon out of the equation, here's how your 2014-15 Pelicans look:
- Centers: Asik (starter)/Alexis Ajinca or Jeff Withey (backup)
- Power forward: Anthony Davis (starter)/Anderson (backup/sixth man)
- Small forward: TBD
- Shooting guard: Evans (starter)/Morrow (backup, if re-signed)
- Point Guard: Jrue Holiday (starter)/Austin Rivers (backup)/Russ Smith (backup)
If you're a Pelicans fan, you feel pretty good about that rotation, right (even with small forward being a mystery)?
How Being Traded Benefits Gordon
For starters, a ticket out of New Orleans ends a rough three-year stint for Gordon. Keep this in mind: Gordon never asked to be a Hornet/Pelican. He was traded to N.O. in 2011. When he tried to leave that summer, New Orleans essentially forced him to stay.
Does that justify his erratic behavior? No, but it gives you an understanding of why he may not have been the happiest of campers these last few years, especially when you consider he's never touched the playoffs since coming over from the Clippers.
If Gordon is traded this summer, his situation (theoretically) improves, regardless of where he goes. He gets a fresh start on a new team and an entire season to show what he can do before opting out next summer.
Why am I certain Gordon opts out next season? Because of three names: Jodie Meeks, Avery Bradley and Ben Gordon. Here's what those three fetched on the open market in the first few days of free agency this summer:
- Meeks: three years, $19.5 million from the Detroit Pistons
- Bradley: four years, $32 million to re-sign with the Boston Celtics
- B. Gordon: two years, $9 million dollars from the Orlando Magic
When healthy, Eric Gordon is better than all three of those players. You should also factor in that he will be only 26 years old next summer. He could still salvage his NBA career. Will he make the $15.5 million he would make if he opts in for 2015-16? No, but he gets a couple things that are bigger than money.
He gets to be happy as well as have some stability. Also, after spending his career with the Clippers (then a lowly franchise) and the Hornets/Pelicans (not exactly successful during his tenure), he gets to pick his next destination.
You can't put a price tag on those intangibles.
Teams That Should Be Interested in a Gordon Trade
With Detroit out of the picture in the wake of the Meeks signing, two teams come to mind as potential suitors for a Gordon trade: the Philadelphia 76ers and the Atlanta Hawks.
The Sixers proved at the NBA draft that they aren't overly concerned with winning this season. That's why they drafted center Joel Embiid (potentially out five to eight months after foot surgery) and forward Dario Saric (spending at least this season overseas).
Even if he manages to play 82 games, Gordon couldn't will this Philly team out of the basement next year. If he gets hurt, who cares? The Sixers aren't trying to win this year anyway. Philadelphia also has cap space and a spot next to Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams available in the backcourt.
Next, there's the Hawks. Like the Sixers, they have some money to burn after sending Lou Williams to the Toronto Raptors. According to USA Today's Sam Amick, Atlanta is interested in free-agent small forward Luol Deng. It also signed defensive stopper Thabo Sefolosha to a three-year, $12 million deal.
Amick reports the Hawks will have about $11.5 million in cap space, which means they'd have to send back some salary to be able to fit Deng and Gordon (if interested).
Let's say the Hawks trade John Salmons (acquired in the Williams trade) and DeMarre Carroll or Kyle Korver for Gordon. Salmons is owed $7 million for next season. Carroll will make $2.5 million and Korver is owed $6.25 million.
If the deal is Salmons and Carroll for Gordon, you're only losing $5.5 million in cap space to add the disgruntled Pelican. If it's Salmons and Korver, the cost drops to just under $2 million. They can still make a run at Deng (although it becomes a little harder with the Salmons/Carroll deal).
Meanwhile, Atlanta goes into next season potentially looking like this:
- Center: Al Horford (returning from injury)
- Power forward: Paul Millsap (biggest bargain of last year's free-agent signings)
- Small forward: Deng
- Shooting guard: Gordon
- Point guard: Jeff Teague
That's an impressive starting five. If (big IF) Miami's Big Three breaks up, the Hawks are suddenly a team to watch at the top of the Eastern Conference. That kind of projection might be worth going into the luxury tax for. After all, you're only housing Gordon at a high price for one season.
Philadelphia and Atlanta make the most sense for a Gordon trade. You could throw the Charlotte Hornets (have cap space, need perimeter scoring), Minnesota Timberwolves (could shake things up this year), and Chicago Bulls (if they completely miss out on Kevin Love or Carmelo Anthony) in the mix.
Nevertheless, the Gordon-New Orleans marriage needs to end for the sake of everyone involved. Gordon needs a fresh start. The Pelicans need the money and to get rid of the headache. Also, Pelicans fans are ready to move on.
There are other ways for the Pelicans to fit Asik under the cap, but after everything the team has been through the past three years, none are a better option than getting rid of Gordon.