Trade Packages and Landing Spots for Magic Star Aaron Gordon
The NBA season's reboot is understandably the center of attention, but the rumor mill never seems to stop churning in the background.
Aaron Gordon is one of the most recent names to turn up there.
"[The Orlando Magic] were really trying to deal him before the deadline, but they weren't getting the assets back they wanted," an Eastern Conference executive told Forbes' Sean Deveney. "It will be easier to move that contract when it's only got two years left. He's probably the most likely big name to be traded. He's a good gamble—he is only 24."
Gordon's scoring average, field-goal percentage and three-point percentage are all down this season. He's posting his worst box plus/minus since his third season in 2016-17.
But that executive is right. There's still reason to believe Gordon can get better. His peak version could be a multipositional defender who can score close to 20 points per game and even create for others a bit. He just hasn't been able to reach that peak in Orlando.
If that means he's available, there are a few teams that should take a crack at acquiring him and hoping he reaches the potential that made him the No. 4 pick in the lauded 2014 draft class.
San Antonio Spurs
Orlando has been looking for an offensive boost as far back as November. And the San Antonio Spurs might be able to provide that in the form of DeMar DeRozan.
If he picks up his $27.7 million player option for next season (and he probably should, given the league's financial situation and the fact that San Antonio is better when he doesn't play), he could be the centerpiece of a deal involving Gordon.
The latter's $18.1 million salary in 2020-21 isn't quite big enough to make a straight-up swap of these two work under the collective bargaining agreement, but the Magic has options for salary-matching purposes (simply adding Al-Farouq Aminu does the trick).
In such a deal, Orlando would get a proven No. 1 scorer. DeRozan is averaging 22.2 points per game, and despite his insistence on not shooting threes, his true shooting percentage is well above average.
The problem with DeRozan has always been on the other end. His teams' defenses have allowed more points per 100 possessions when he's on the floor in nine of his 11 seasons (their net points per 100 possessions has been worse when he plays in 10 of 11 seasons).
There may have been some optimism that Gregg Popovich and the stability of the Spurs organization and system could help, but it's been more of the same during DeRozan's two seasons there.
With Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac, Mo Bamba and others on the roster, there are plus defenders who could theoretically cover DeRozan's weaknesses. And if he's taking pressure off them on offense, perhaps they might have even more to offer on the other end.
For San Antonio, this move would be a long-overdue nod to the future. The Kawhi Leonard trade has been panned all over the internet, so we'll leave that alone. Simply put, it's time to take the L there and move on with intriguing young talent like Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV.
Filling out a lineup with those three, Gordon and Jakob Poeltl would give the Spurs a shot at a top-10 defense. And more offensive responsibility for all five could foster growth.
If it doesn't, move on again. Look for more young(ish) talent who might be able to return the organization to contention. Such movement is the nature of a rebuild.
The Minnesota Timberwolves have two foundational pieces (at least on offense) in Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell. If they can re-sign him to a reasonable contract, impending restricted free agent Malik Beasley fits nicely, as well.
Adding Gordon to that mix would make sense on a few levels.
For one, he should theoretically help on defense. Over his career, Orlando's defensive rating has been slightly worse with Gordon on the floor, but he has the size (6'8", 235 lbs) and physical tools to defend multiple positions and take on tough assignments from which Minnesota might want to spare KAT and Russell.
Offensively, he could work as a slasher inside while defenses have to focus on the perimeter threats of the two stars. That, and the potential that opponents could send their best defenders to Towns, Russell and Beasley, could help boost Gordon's efficiency.
Logistically, such a deal might require James Johnson to opt into his $15.8 million player option for 2020-21. His salary is close enough to Gordon's that a one-for-one swap works under the cap, and the flexibility of an expiring contract might entice Orlando.
Of course, the 33-year-old Johnson is nearly 10 years older than Gordon, which means Minnesota would have to surrender some future assets to get a deal done. It has already committed its 2021 first-rounder to the Golden State Warriors. So, barring any pick swaps, the earliest it could send another would be 2023.
Perhaps that and a second-rounder might be enough to convince the Magic to make a deal.
For them, this would be a long-term play. Johnson doesn't fit Orlando's timeline, but the trade would open up more responsibility for Isaac, who may already be seizing Gordon's role.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers have loads of talent at the top of the roster. The 6'7" Leonard and 6'8" Paul George are both superstars on offense who have the size and defensive prowess to guard almost anyone.
Gordon isn't close to their level on defense, but he has a similar physical profile. And the potential switchability of lineups including all three could be nightmarish for opponents (especially if Gordon further develops on that end).
Offensively, his role would be similar in L.A. to the one explained in the T-Wolves slide. He would clearly be the third or fourth option, which means less attention from opponents and potentially easier looks.
Plus, having him under contract for next season and 2021-22 could be a hedge against (or reaction to) the free agencies of Montrezl Harrell and Marcus Morris Sr. If one or both leave this offseason, any need for Gordon would increase.
The problem with this one is what the Clippers might have to give up to get it done. As previously mentioned, the Magic are in the market for offense. That implicates Lou Williams, who has been a fixture in Sixth Man of the Year debates for seemingly his entire stint in L.A. (and beyond).
And his contract isn't big enough to get a trade done on its own. The Clippers would have to include Patrick Beverley or Ivica Zubac (who doesn't make much sense for a team with Nikola Vucevic and Bamba) to make the math work.
Losing a defensive stalwart like Beverley and Williams may be too big of a pill to swallow.
But Gordon is bigger, younger and more athletic than both, and he's on the right side of his prime. And as the league continues to trend toward positionless basketball, his presence in lineups with Leonard and George makes a lot of sense.
This is a bit of a gamble, but the upside might be worth it.
Spencer Dinwiddie is on such a deal, and the Magic's desire for offense should make him appealing.
At age 27, he may be three years older than Gordon, but he would provide an instant boost to Orlando's attack.
This is another deal that wouldn't work straight up, though. Adding Dzanan Musa and Nicolas Claxton would satisfy the cap rules, but then Brooklyn may feel like it's giving up too much. Would Orlando be OK with sweetening the deal with a second-round pick?
That might be what it takes for Dinwiddie's offense and the potential of Musa and Claxton.
For the Nets, Gordon doesn't give them a superstar to round out a Big Three with Irving and Kevin Durant, but he still has upside too.
And with the big names providing more than enough scoring, Gordon could settle into a defense-first, playmaking-4 type of role.
Contract info via Spotrac.