Eric Gordon's Max Deal Has Turned into the NBA's Worst Contract

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistNovember 5, 2014

New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Gordon (10) runs onto the court during player introductions before an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic in New Orleans, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

Eric Gordon's contract is bad.

It's also the NBA's worst.

Once the centerpiece of the trade that landed Chris Paul with the Los Angeles Clippers, Gordon has devolved into a financial albatross who does little more than clog the New Orleans Pelicans' financial pipeline. Worse, he's impeding their finances after trying to leave.

Months after Gordon joined the Pelicans, he signed a four-year, $58 million offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns in restricted free agency. He made it clear that his heart lied in Phoenix at the time, essentially trying to scare the Pelicans into letting him walk.

They matched the offer sheet anyway and, well, here they and Gordon are, almost four years into a marriage that isn't working, a little more than two years into a bad contract that's now contending for "Absolute Worst" status.

Declining Play

MEMPHIS, TN - NOVEMBER 3:  Tony Allen #9 of the Memphis Grizzlies attempts to steal the ball from Eric Gordon #10 of the New Orleans Pelicans on November 3, 2014 at FedExForum in Memphis,Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Since Gordon's new deal kicked in at the start of the 2012-13 season, he's been a train wreck, averaging just 15.7 points on 41.7 percent shooting while posting a below-average player efficiency rating of 14.5. Only three other players are averaging between 15 and 16 points while shooting between 40 and 42 percent from the floor during that same time: Danilo Gallinari, J.R. Smith and Bradley Beal.

None of them will earn more than $10.9 million this year (Gallinari). 

Gordon is slated to take home $14.9 million.

Smith, an oft-criticized chucker, has become an accurately unsettling comparison for the 25-year-old Gordon. The same Smith who will earn less than half of what Gordon rakes in ($6 million).

Take a look at how their per-game stats stack up since 2012-13:

Eric Gordon vs. J.R. Smith
GMPGPTSFG%3P%REBASTSTLOff. Rtg.PER
Eric Gordon11031.415.741.735.72.33.21.187.714.5
J.R. Smith15832.916.141.837.44.62.91.1101.015.7
Basketball-Reference

Remove availability (games played) and salaries from consideration for a second. Which player would you rather have your favorite team employ?

Exactly.

Also of note: Gordon has collected just 3.3 win shares since his four-year deal began, the fewest of any player (minimum 100 appearances) who is averaging at least 30 minutes per game. Kendrick Perkins has amassed more during that same span (3.4) while playing fewer minutes (22.4).

Gordon has gone from future star to financial obstruction.
Gordon has gone from future star to financial obstruction.Bill Haber/Associated Press

Injuries haven't helped Gordon's cause. He's missed 115 of a possible 234 regular-season contests since arriving in New Orleans. But he's healthy now and only playing worse.

"Yes, the only way you can score a lot of points is shoot the ball,'' Gordon said of struggling this season, per The Times Picayune's John Reid. ''Like I said, it’s a different role and I’ve got to find a way to try and get shots."

Playing alongside Anthony Davis, destroyer of worlds, Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Omer Asik has messed with Gordon's offensive involvement. He arrived in New Orleans as a the No. 1 option. He's lucky if he's No. 4 now, behind Davis, Holiday and Evans. 

Through his first four games of 2014-15, Gordon is notching 5.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 1.5 steals on a ghastly 20.6 percent shooting. He's also on pace for a career-low usage rate (15.9). It's the kind of production you expect from a bench-warming, garbage time-playing scrub, not someone who is logging nearly 33 minutes per game. And in case you haven't figured it out already, he owns the worst field-goal percentage of anyone playing at least 30 minutes per game.

It's no wonder his name has meandered in and out of the rumor mill like a pastry addict would the local bakery. He's been that bad, and he's made his contract—he's still owed $30.4 million through the end of 2015-16—look that much worse.

Other Bad Deals

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 02:  Joe Johnson #7 of the Brooklyn Nets drives to the basket against Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York City on April 02, 2014.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Does Gordon's pact look more putrid than some of his fellow overpaid comrades?

That's become a matter of circumstance.

Amar'e Stoudemire's deal has stood out among the NBA's worst for years. But while he's earning more than $23.4 million this season, his contract comes off the books next summer. Bad deals tend to look better when there's a light at the end of the tunnel.

Joe Johnson of the Brooklyn Nets is another candidate. The 33-year-old isolation specialist is owed more than $48 million through the end of next season. And yet he's come alive this year, pumping in 22 points, 6.7 rebounds and five assists on 50 percent shooting, including a blistering 46.7 percent clip from long range.

The size of his contract alone—regardless of production—is enough to scare off any possible trade suitors. But even if he's immovable, it appears as if he has a fighting chance of giving Brooklyn its money's worth. His teammate, Deron Williams, actually has the worse contract at this point.

Although Williams is a three-time All-Star whose stock is gradually climbing out of the basement—he's averaging 17.0 points and 7.7 assists on the year—he's still costing the Nets a fortune. Assuming he doesn't exercise his early termination option in 2016 (which, you know, duh), Williams will bring home more than $63.1 million over the next three seasons.

Williams remains in possession of one of the league's worst contracts.
Williams remains in possession of one of the league's worst contracts.USA TODAY Sports

Gerald Wallace's deal is terrible as well. He's owed more than $20.2 million through the end of 2015-16, during which time the Boston Celtics will likely pay him to do absolutely nothing unless he proves to be a valuable trade piece as an expiring contract next year.

This is the company Gordon is keeping. There aren't any other deals that rival his.

Carlos Boozer was amnestied by the Chicago Bulls; Larry Sanders is actually playing again; Kobe Bryant is averaging nearly five times as many points as Gordon; Andrea Bargnani is in the last year of his deal; Andrew Bynum is no longer in the NBA; JaVale McGee is making a few million less than Gordon (plus, he's big); Perkins only has one year left; Josh Smith is still a fantasy goldmine; and Rudy Gay is both in the last year of his deal and playing efficient basketball.

That's it.

Most would-be candidates are approaching the end of their deals, earning less than Gordon or playing better than Gordon. There's also the matter of it being so, so difficult to have a truly bad deal nowadays. The NBA's salary cap is expected to skyrocket in the wake of its new national television deal. Zach Lowe of Grantland says it could rise as high as $90-plus million if no smoothing-out process is implemented, making it doubly difficult to appear on this list.

Rock Bottom

Feb 10, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Gordon (10) looks on against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Pelicans 108-101. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

What does all this mean for Gordon? That there's not much competition. Maybe three players (Williams, Johnson, Wallace) at most.

After narrowing it down, it's tempting to roll with the most expensive pact out there, which would be the $63.1 million over three years that Williams will net.

Except it's not that simple.

There's one more aspect of all this outside contract length and worth: market value.

Would a team be more likely to trade for Gordon or Williams? That's the question we have to ask, the answer to which complicates this situation.

Here's Bourbon Street Shots' Jason Calmes with more on Gordon:

Complicating matters is the issues [sic] of minutes. Gordon needs to book decent minutes, likely as a starter and a closer (at least in close games), in order to create and sustain a market for him. So, whatever the fix . . . be it time and health or be it giving him a different role in Monty’s scheme . . . it needs to show up as an improvement in per game stats. Him getting better is the only way, period, for this team to say goodbye to him sooner than 2 seasons from now, if that is even possible.

New Orleans has tried to deal Gordon before. He was readily available leading into last season's trade deadline, according to Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix. That he wasn't moved speaks more to his plummeting value than anything else. 

Around that same time, meanwhile, ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk reported the Houston Rockets held preliminary discussions with the Nets about acquiring Williams, though nothing ever came to fruition.

Still, suitors are, for now, more likely to pounce at the opportunity to land Williams over Gordon. At least he is producing (albeit inefficiently; 39.5 percent shooting). At least he's a former All-Star. At least he's made the playoffs. Gordon has no such accomplishments to point toward right now—no production, no All-Star appearances, no playoff performances.

Yes, Williams' status is admittedly worsened by the length of his deal. He's on the books through 2016-17 whereas Gordon's deal—assuming he exercises his player option this summer—will end next year. Even though Williams is putting up numbers, he, too, is injury-prone. No matter what happens over the next three seasons, he will still be an eight-figure handicap who's no longer the free-agent selling point he was before.

But Gordon has left Williams and every other money-burgerling star with too many outs.

Gordon does, in fact, have the league's worst deal.
Gordon does, in fact, have the league's worst deal.Bill Haber/Associated Press

Seven years into his NBA career he's still a question mark, a talented player who has yet to establish himself as anything more or better than a promising prospect. His early-season failures thus far have only sealed his immediate standing.

Given what he was supposed to be—New Orleans' franchise cornerstone—he's a demonstrative disappointment. His contract reflects that of a superstar, his numbers resemble those of an afterthought.

Now, as the Pelicans push forward and build around Davis, he is no longer charged with living up to his potential or earning his paycheck. Gordon's job, first and foremost, is to scrap and claw and play his way up from rock bottom, to a place where his stats are better, his future brighter and his contract something more than what it is now: the league's worst.

*Salary and contract information courtesy of ShamSports. Stats via Basketball-Reference unless otherwise cited.

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