The Houston Rockets have reportedly made Eric Gordon available through trade. The veteran guard is having one of the best shooting seasons of his career and could help fortify any contender’s playoff rotation.
The Rockets are reportedly seeking a first-round pick to part with their longest-tenured player. Moving on from Gordon, the final link to their excellent 2017-18 squad, will be bittersweet. He’s the only Rocket that has suited up in a playoff game for the franchise.
One persistent fan comment on Gordon trade rumors is that teams around the league, and perhaps even the Rockets themselves, are undervaluing the fifth Ninja Turtle. The sentiment is not without merit.
Gordon has the best effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of any non-center in the league this season. Statistically, of any player that doesn’t just feast on lobs and dunks, Gordon has been the league’s most accurate shooter from the field.
Gordon’s offensive on-court impact can be game-changing, but that isn’t the whole story. There is the other side of the ball, defense, and Gordon has never graded out as a defensive asset. In his entire career, he has never posted a non-negative defensive box plus/minus, and at 33 years young he is unlikely to suddenly become a defensive stopper. Gordon isn’t a defensive sieve, but he isn’t an asset either.
The other factor to consider is Gordon’s contract. After two dismal seasons, Gordon’s trade value was so far in the red that the Rockets would have likely had to attach draft capital to get off of his deal this past offseason. While his trade value is no longer underwater, executives are well within their right to not entirely believe that he’ll continue to shoot 46.1% from three.
The other factor to consider is that Gordon’s contract has one more year of fully guaranteed money and a not fully guaranteed $20.9 million for 2023-24. Only one team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, is currently under the NBA’s salary cap. What this means is that to land Gordon and his $18.2 million salary, a team needs to send out close to $18 million.
Unsurprisingly, player salary and performance are directly tied. To trade for Gordon a team not only needs to send out draft picks, but also a sizeable amount of current NBA production. Very few teams that are in the market for a mid-season upgrade have $18 million in player salaries that are going to players who don’t directly factor into their current success.
Gordon’s contract, not his production, is dragging down his trade value. However, NBA teams have shown time and again that they’re much more willing to take on a prohibitive salary if there is only one year remaining on the deal.
In the offseason, when Gordon will be in the final year of his guaranteed money, his trade value could actually improve. Another factor to consider are picks that are tied up in protections. For instance, the Phoenix Suns cannot trade their 2022, 2023, 2024, or 2025 picks because they owe one pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The pick which is top-12 protected this season is almost guaranteed to convey for the 2022 Draft. When that happens the Suns will suddenly be able to move their 2023, 2024, and 2025 picks. The Suns could remove their protections on that 2022 pick to open up those picks, but the situation is one that many contenders find themselves in.
The Rockets shouldn’t feel compelled to move Gordon before this trade deadline. As long as he continues to shoot the lights out his on-court value won’t fall off a cliff. Waiting until the offseason could make Gordon’s value go up. More teams will have more assets to land him and he’ll effectively be on a one-year deal with a team option to keep him around for another.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that his $19.5 million salary for the 2022-23 season could also be a useful salary matcher in a trade for a true impact player. It could allow the Rockets to land another franchise cornerstone or act as a third party to help facilitate another deal.
Unless the Rockets are made an offer they cannot refuse, it makes a lot of sense to keep Gordon around until the offseason. If Gordon is a Rocket past the deadline it isn’t a failure of the front office. It’s an indication that they’re committed to building the best possible roster.