A year ago yesterday, the drama between the Phoenix Suns and the New Orleans Hornets (nee Pelicans) over 23 year old shooting guard Eric Gordon came to an end when the Hornets matched the Suns' maximum-salary offer of $58 million over four years.
The uber-talented but often injured Gordon, a restricted free agent, refused contract-extension offers and asked the Big Easy to let him jump ship to the Suns. But the Hornets had no interest in letting Gordon leave after he'd been the centerpiece of the Chris Paul trade, so they matched the max offer despite Gordon's attitude.
Before his injuries and commitment issues in New Orleans, Eric Gordon was a rising star in Los Angeles. In three Clipper seasons, Gordon put up 16.1, 16.9 and 22.3 points per game, supported by 38% three-point shooting on five attempts per game. Gordon also drives hard to the hoop and passes well (3 assists per game), while providing strong defense on the other end of the court.
The teams reportedly did not even engage in trade discussions during the three-day matching period. If the Hornets were ready to rid themselves of Gordon, they could have taken back Robin Lopez (who was traded to NOLA later that summer in a 3-team trade that netted the Suns Wes Johnson and a future #1 pick, who then traded him again a year later for future second round pick).
Truly, the Hornets were not about to let their most talented player walk away no matter how badly he may have wanted to go.
Instead, they decided to pay $14 million per year to a guy who had played only 9 of 66 games in the 2011-12 season, sitting out for unspecified knee pain, after playing 196 of 246 games in his first three years with the LA Clippers.
The Suns were left holding the proverbial bag. Their grand scheme included a potential All-Star talent at shooting guard flanked by the talented Goran Dragic in a two-headed backcourt of driving and dishing to open three-point shooters in Jared Dudley, Channing Frye and free agent signee Michael Beasley.
Those Suns could have been young and exciting, with at least one young player who would earn All-Star buzz every season.
Instead, the Phoenix Suns lost the potential All-Star and soon after that lost one of those good three-point shooters in Channing Frye (heart ailment).
Neither team "won" the Eric Gordon derby in the 2012-13 season.
The Hornets paid Gordon $13.668 million to pout and sit out another 40 of 82 games over that same mysterious knee pain. Again, the Hornets doctors could not pinpoint the issue and Gordon had no surgery*. He eventually returned to the Hornets lineup, scoring 17.2 points per game. The Hornets were 16-26 with Gordon in the lineup vs. 11-29 without.
*Gordon did have surgery in May, after the season, to clean up debris in an ankle and should be fine for training camp.
The Hornets reportedly tried to shop Gordon all season but, just like the Phoenix Suns the summer before, no one wanted to pay Gordon all that money AND give up a lot of talent in trade.
Due to the matching rules in the CBA, the Hornets had trade restrictions on Gordon the entire season. They couldn't trade Gordon to Phoenix at all, and couldn't trade him to anyone else without his permission.
The Suns, as you all know, executed Plan B which was a lay low and ride out the season with an incomplete roster. They talked a big game, hoping for playoffs and such, but you can't make the playoffs without talent.
One year later
As of yesterday, New Orleans is allowed to trade Gordon anywhere they want, without his permission. They could even trade him to Phoenix if they wanted to. But Gordon is still an injury risk and, coupled with his big salary, cannot demand too much in trade value.
But does New Orleans (now named the Pelicans) even want to trade Gordon anymore?
The Pelicans want to make the playoffs next season, and they are now making every effort to load the team with more talent. In a matter of weeks, they have brought in two of Gordon's former AAU mates in All-Star PG Jrue Holiday and mercurial, position-less Tyreke Evans for the tidy sum of $20 million per year.
Gordon now says he is "all in" with the Pelicans, and his new teammates can't stop gushing about the possibilities. But can they all play together in a real, effective NBA lineup?
Holiday is truly a PG, and Gordon is truly a SG. The 6'6" Evans can play PG, SG and SF but really doesn't like playing small forward. He wants the ball in his hands, as do Holiday and Gordon.
To put Evans in the starting lineup moves three-point shooting Ryan Anderson from SF to PF, and second-year whisper-thin Anthony Davis from PF to C in their most talented lineup. This lineup would have real trouble holding the opponent under 100 points per game, but at the least the offense would be prolific.
While Gordon is now excited about playing for the Pelicans, it's quite possible that the acquisitions of Evans and Holiday were simply to put the Pelicans in position to trade Gordon without taking a major hit in talent. Plus it would allow the Pelicans to finally turn the tables on Gordon after being held hostage by his pouting for the last two seasons.
But do the Phoenix Suns still need Gordon?
In a word, yes. The least-talented team in the West still needs any top-end talent they can get. But it's not as simple as that.
The Suns just acquired former Gordon teammate Eric Bledsoe to play the two-headed ball handling game with Goran Dragic they'd envisioned Gordon to play. To add Gordon, the Suns would be committing to the same kind of match-game lineup problems as New Orleans faces, yet with even more trouble because none of these guys can shift to SF due to size problems (none over 6'3").
But the Suns don't have any All-Stars. They still need to acquire more and more talent any way they can, and a young (still just 24) two-way playing shooting guard with All-Star talent cannot be ignored.
What the Suns have to decide is whether they want to trade $14+ million in salaries (likely expiring) plus potentially a young asset to acquire an expensive, injury-prone player who forces one of Bledsoe/Dragic to the bench?
Plus, acquiring the long-term contract of Gordon would take the Suns out of the free agent market until at least 2015 and could possibly take them out of the top 5 draft picks next spring - a draft loaded with potential franchise players.
Acquiring someone like Gordon would be tempting for a quick turnaround, but is it worth the cost?