Reports came out yesterday that the Orlando Magic reached a verbal agreement to sign veteran shooting guard Ben Gordon. The parties are reported to have agreed on a two-year deal with a salary of $4.5 million per year, but the second year is a team option. Strictly as a basketball move, the Orlando Magic signing Ben Gordon is curious at best and possibly detrimental to its developing young core at worst. The deal appears to have some other considerations behind it in order to fit within a rationality box. Magic General Manager Rob Hennigan may go against the grain in some instances with his player moves, but he is always rational and a devotee of following a disciplined plan to improve the team.
Ben Gordon is 31 years old and seemingly on a downswing in his career. Gordon achieved his highest per game scoring average of 21.4 in the 2006-07 season playing for the Chicago Bulls. He signed a free agent contract with the Detroit Pistons in 2009 and seemingly has been doing worse ever since. He was shipped to the Charlotte Bobcats before the 2012-13 season and was relegated to the bench for the developing squad. Given the trajectory of Gordon’s career, the Magic perhaps could have obtained Gordon’s services at a salary closer to the veteran minimum. Gordon has certainly not been on any list of prized NBA free agents. What makes the Ben Gordon signing more curious is that the Orlando Magic already have Victor Olidipo and Evan Fournier requiring playing time at the same position. From a pure basketball perspective, the Gordon agreement appears to create problems instead of filling a need.
Delving deeper into the situation, both Matt Lloyd and Scott Perry, who work as assistants to Hennigan, know Gordon from his prior playing stints. Lloyd was with the Chicago Bulls when Gordon played there. Likewise, Perry knew Gordon when he worked in the front office for the Detroit Pistons. To the extent that Gordon is required to fill the role of veteran mentor, Lloyd and Perry could vouch for his ability to do so. Olidipo played some point guard last season, but will presumably slide over to his more natural shooting guard position with the draft day trade for PG Elfrid Payton. Further, the team will likewise need to find minutes to allow for the development of Fournier, the major asset obtained in the Magic’s Arron Afflalo trade. Putting a possible veteran malcontent on the bench behind the two young shooting guards does not make sense unless the parties have already agreed on Gordon’s likely role on the team.
Another possibility for the $4.5 million agreement for this season to make sense is using Gordon as an expiring contract trade chip for a deadline deal in the upcoming season. At this point, the player with the largest contract on the Magic is Olidipo at approximately $5 million. If the Orlando club has a desire to bring in a veteran at a position of need in a deadline deal, the player contract dollars have to match up and the Magic would not have contracts to jettison as part of the deal absent the Gordon agreement. If an expiring contract is not available like Gordon’s will be given the team option for the next season, the Magic might have to trade an additional young player they would prefer to keep. The deal with Gordon appears to provide the team some flexibility to make a beneficial deal in February.
Although Gordon no doubt still possesses a good NBA skill set as a scorer, he most likely projects to be on the downside of his playing career. The Orlando Magic signing Ben Gordon appears highly curious and perhaps a blunder until the deal is examined from all sides. Gordon receives a substantial salary and the Magic obtain what they hope will be a willing mentor and trade chip. Both parties to the deal should benefit in the end, so long as Gordon agrees on his role.
Commentary by William Costolo