Report: Aaron Gordon Traded to Nuggets from Magic for Gary Harris, Hampton, 1st

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 25, 2021

Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) during an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The Orlando Magic have reportedly agreed to a deal that will send forward Aaron Gordon to the Denver Nuggets ahead of Thursday's deadline, according to Shams Charania of Stadium and The Athletic.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Magic will receive Gary Harris, RJ Hampton and a first-round pick from Denver.

Last year, Gordon averaged 14.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting 43.7 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from beyond the arc. Those numbers aren't much different from what he's posted during the current campaign (14.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.2 assists through 25 games). His three-point percentage has at least improved to 37.5.

Gordon missed a chunk of the season because of a severe ankle sprain, which likely forced any trade negotiations to be tabled for a bit.

After selecting Gordon with the fourth overall pick in 2014, Orlando has used first-rounders on Jonathan Isaac and Mohamed Bamba. The Magic also signed Nikola Vucevic to a four-year, $100 million extension during the 2019 offseason.

At some point, general manager John Hammond had to clear out the logjam in the team's frontcourt. 

The Athletic's Shams Charania reported in November 2019 that teams were "monitoring" the 25-year-old Gordon but that the Magic had "shown no interest in moving him." 

In the event Hammond wanted to shake things up, Gordon was the most likely candidate to move among the squad's key players. He's one of Orlando's best players, while his age and the additional year left on his contract meant he'd yield a healthy return in a trade.

Orlando's opinion on Gordon may have changed over time as it has struggled to build upon an encouraging 2018-19 season. Simply returning to the playoffs didn't carry much weight in 2019-20 as the team's winning percentage slipped from .512 to .452.

The step backward was emblematic of how the Magic have a roster that can only take them so far. 

It led to major moves Thursday, sending Nikola Vucevic and Al-Farouq Aminu to the Chicago Bulls, per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. Evan Fournier was also dealt to the Boston Celtics, per Charania.

In his first season with the Charlotte Bobcats in 2013-14, head coach Steve Clifford oversaw a 22-win improvement and helped guide the team to the postseason. Rather than building toward something bigger, though, that basically signaled the extent of Charlotte's potential. The Hornets made one more playoff appearance—losing in the first round in 2016—before Clifford was out of a job and the rebuild was underway.

Coming off a first-round loss to the Toronto Raptors in 2019, the Magic doubled down on the present in the subsequent offseason by re-signing Vucevic and Terrence Ross and adding Aminu.

By basically having the same outcome in 2020—falling to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round in five games—the franchise showed how little had changed.

Orlando has to strengthen the backcourt more than anything. Cole Anthony arrived via the draft, but Markelle Fultz's torn ACL put the Magic right back at square one. They're sorely lacking a traditional playmaker to run the offense.

While not addressing the issue immediately, the return from trading Gordon could be the means by which Orlando finally finds a long-term solution at point guard.

Nobody should benefit from his departure more than Isaac, who saw an encouraging third season in the NBA end abruptly because of a torn ACL. Isaac averaged 11.9 points and 6.8 rebounds and shot 34.0 percent from beyond the arc.

With Gordon gone, Isaac can play power forward, a position that suits him better, more regularly when he returns. His improvement prior to the injury may have given Hammond the confidence necessary to green-light a Gordon trade.

Of course, this move will backfire if Gordon discovers his jumper in Denver, not unlike what eventually happened with Victor Oladipo after he was traded away.

While emerging as a solid defender, Gordon hasn't developed a consistent offensive game. He's a career 32.3 percent shooter from the perimeter, which is limiting his overall value. A 6'8" forward who can't stretch the floor isn't the kind of player you build a franchise around in today's NBA, which was the Magic's problem.

A change of scenery could be the trigger for Gordon to reach a new level as a scorer because it seemed as though he had maxed out in Orlando.

While Nuggets' run to the Western Conference Finals in 2020 showed how they had assembled a strong roster, the limitations of that roster were laid bare in a gentleman's sweep at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Sooner or later, president of basketball operations Tim Connelly would need outside reinforcements to supplement Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.

On paper, the Nuggets are better with Gordon on the roster. This may not be the transformative move to get Denver significantly closer to a title, though.