Every great team starts with star players, but their success hinges on the players put around them. Eric Gordon has the chance to bring the Houston Rockets’ title dreams to life.
The 2019-20 NBA season will begin the new Dynamic Duo era in the league. The price tag of three max contracts limited the viability of filling out the rest of a 15-man roster and effectively ended most teams searching for a Big Three. You will still find a few sprinkled across the league like in Philadelphia and Golden State, but for the most part teams are starting to try to accumulate depth rather than star power.
The Houston Rockets are no different. After a couple of years of trying to add a third star to play along side James Harden and Chris Paul, General Manager Daryl Morey decided to trade the latter in a franchise altering swap for former-MVP and walking triple-double Russell Westbrook.
The trade retooled a roster with very little cap relief coming in the near future that had also, in a way, stagnated when the playoffs rolled around each season. Even with everything Harden has been able to do over the last half decade of regular season dominance, he has not made an NBA Finals appearance since the last time he teamed up with Westbrook.
The “Harden can’t do it on his own” narrative is true. Nobody can. Every great team is exactly that: a team. Top heavy rosters have a hard time coming out of the playoff onslaught in June with the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Every Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, and LeBron James needs their Pascal Siakams, Draymond Greens, and Chris Boshes as their third best players during their maiden voyages of winning a title as “The Guy.”
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James Harden is no different. Although the three mentioned above were flanked by either an All-Star or a soon-to-be All Star, the Rockets do not lack their own equivalent. Former Sixth Man of the Year Eric Gordon has the ability to comfortably step into that role. Gordon’s career may not have followed the trajectory it seemed destined to reach early on, but he may still have a place in helping decide Harden’s place among the all-time greats.
The Hoosier product has struggled with injuries from the onset of his career. The only time he eclipsed 70 games in a single season was during his Sixth Man of the Year campaign in the 2016-17 season. During his first three seasons in the league playing for the Los Angeles Clippers, he showed strong enough play as to be selected to the now revered 2010 Team USA roster (those first three seasons also look quite similar to the first three seasons of his Team USA teammate who is now a multi-time MVP).
During the World Championship tournament, Gordon averaged more points per game than the likes of Derrick Rose, Kevin Love and Curry. He followed that summer up with the best season of his career scoring 22.3 points while dishing out 4.4 assists per game.
Gordon managed only nine games due to injury in his first season on the pre Anthony Davis wasteland that was the New Orleans Hornets. Even once the team got their man, Gordon was only able to muster 42 outings in The Brow’s first pro season. Beginning that season, his numbers dropped three consecutive seasons bottoming out at 13.4 points per game and hitting only 38 percent of his 2-point field goals.
During his contract season the following year he moved back toward the player he had previously been which is why the Rockets gave him a 4-year, $53 million contract in July 2016. The return to form has been impressive.
His first two seasons in Houston solidified him as the best Indiana University player of the 21st century and even with the emergence of Victor Oladipo, the two players are still neck-and-neck when looking at their entire careers.
Gordon will begin the 2019-20 season as the Houston Rockets starting small forward which shows the ferocity he is able to bring on the defensive end of the court. At 6-4, he will be guarding players four to seven inches taller than him every night from tip-off and will be likely tasked with defending the West’s top-tier of guards when necessary.
The Houston Rockets have big-time title aspirations this coming season and even the likes of two historically dominant guards will need a third bucket creator when the times get tough. The new 4-year, $75.6 million extension Gordon received at the beginning of September shows the team’s belief in his ability to be that guy.
And although he may never have become the player Steph Curry did, Eric Gordon carved out a strong career for himself that has spanned over a decade already. Now he has the opportunity to finish this season as the third best player for a championship team and if you were to ask Chris Bosh or Ray Allen, I’m sure that isn’t a bad title to hold.