It feels like the Houston Rockets have been trying to trade Eric Gordon forever. Last offseason, he was a trade machine regular, but coming off of a down season, it would have meant the Rockets were selling low. This past trade deadline, after a resurgence, it felt like every contender inquired about his services. And now, Gordon has been linked with a move to the Philadelphia 76ers to reunite with former Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey as he looks to reconstruct the 2018-19 Philadelphia Rockets.
From a pure basketball perspective, Gordon is an exceptional fit for any contender. He is a legitimate floor spacer, can handle the ball, and is capable of leading a second unit. Players capable of seamlessly leading an offense and playing off of others are rarer than you would think. Gordon is a poor defender at this stage of his career, but he isn’t so bad that he’s a liability. If you’re looking for a sixth man that can run with the starters, Eric Gordon is one of the best.
For all of the trade attention and rumors, Gordon remains a Rocket. How is it that a player who is so sought after is also so hard to move? These are the three reasons that an Eric Gordon trade is so difficult.
Reason #3 Eric Gordon is still a Rocket: The Asking Price
The Houston Rockets aren’t going to give Eric Gordon away for nothing. He remains a quality NBA player and is coming off one of the most efficient shooting seasons in the league. He was one of seven players to average over 13 points per game on 40% or better 3-point shooting and 50% or better 2-point shooting. On top of that, he was one of four players with a 60% or better true shooting percentage that took over 50% of their shots from 3-point range and had a free throw attempt rate better than .200.
The Rockets know how good of a season Gordon just had and are right to not budge on their reported valuation or a first-round pick. Unfortunately, the market has suggested that players in the NBA’s middle class aren’t worth all that much. Christian Wood fetched the 26th overall pick, and Malcolm Brogdan got the Pacers a protected first-round pick from the Celtics.
Wood’s value around the league wasn’t as high as Rockets fans convinced themselves, and Brogdan has a large salary and a lengthy injury history. Eric Gordon, unfortunately, checks all three boxes. The Rockets want a first-round pick for Eric Gordon, and he’s probably worth it, but the rest of the league has shown how it values players in his tier, and it’s not all that high.
Reason #2 Eric Gordon is still a Rocket: The Suitors
A player’s trade value is largely determined by who wants them. For instance, Kyrie Irving is a tremendously talented player, is still in his prime and on a reasonable deal. His hitting the trade market should have led to a massive bidding war, but for obvious off-the-court reasons, many teams are uninterested. Instead, just the Lakers, maybe the most desperate team in the league, are interested. As of now, it appears the best offer the Nets will receive for Kyrie Irving is Russell Westbrook’s awful contract and two first-round picks.
Who wants a player and what they have, determines a player’s trade value. The teams that are most interested in Gordon, the Lakers and the Sixers, don’t really have all that much to offer. Gordon being on an expiring deal and his age make his services most intriguing for teams that are all-in on next season. There just aren’t as many all-in teams, and they usually have already used their assets to get all-in.
Reason #1 Eric Gordon is still a Rocket: Matching Salary
The single biggest problem with finding Eric Gordon a new home is his contract. Set to earn $19.5 million this upcoming season, with a non-guaranteed $20.9 million salary for the season after, Gordon is a salary matching nightmare for most contenders.
Most good NBA teams employee two or three players making massive money and round out their roster with players making less than $12 million and minimum deals. Add in the fact that just about every team is over the salary cap, demanding that a near equivalent amount of salary that comes in goes out, and patching together a deal becomes as convoluted and complicated as this sentence.
Take the Sixers as an example. Of the players they’d hypothetically be willing to trade for Gordon, Tobias Harris is making $37.6 million, Furkan Korkmaz $5 million, Matisse Thybulle $4.3 million, and Georges Niang $3.4 million. The Rockets can’t take Harris’ contract, nor would they want to, and Kormkmaz, Thybulle, and Niang only add up to $12.7 million in salary.
The Sixers may want Gordon, but to get him, they’d have to orchestrate a three team trade that moves Tobias Harris, who is a better player than Gordon, or they’d have to gut their depth for a role player. Teams simply don’t move heaven and Earth to land a player they aren’t planning on starting.
Even though there are clear hurdles to finding Eric Gordon a new home, it still remains likely that he finishes the season on a new team. In the offseason, every front office believes they have nailed it. Then injuries happen, players disappoint, and title odds begin to crystalize. While organizations don’t move heaven and Earth to land bench players, they do to win a championship. Gordon still has the combination of skill, experience, and role flexibility to be a crucial mid-season jolt.