It has been a few days since news broke that the Magic had agreed to terms on a two-year, $9 million deal with veteran guard Ben Gordon. Gordon even showed up in Orlando for Summer League and began taking in games in his new home arena (while catching up with several Pistons staffers in the process).
The signing has been full of mystery and head scratching among Magic fans. It is frankly a little bit hard to explain or rationalize. Gordon kind of seemed washed out of the league and now he is getting a $4.5 million deal with a team option for a second year at the same price.
Last year was by far Gordon’s worst of his career — he averaged just 5.2 points per game and shot 34.3 percent from the floor in 19 games for the Bobcats. Gordon was cut just after the deadline to be signed for a playoff roster. He seemed destined to fade into NBA oblivion.
Orlando seemingly rescued him from the NBA trash heap and gave him a significant chunk of change in the process. It was strange in a lot of ways. Gordon’s on-court fall-off notwithstanding, Gordon is not known as a model for young players or much of a leader. This is pretty much a pure rescue attempt. The Magic have taken in a stray and are trying to rehabilitate him in some form or fashion. This is truly his last chance at the NBA.
So how does this fit the plan, the process for the Magic? Why was this the move Orlando needed to make.
Gordon has not been much of a shooter the last few years, but he is someone teams have to respect as a 3-point shooter. He is a 40.2 percent 3-point shooter in his career and has just three seasons shooting worse than 40 percent from beyond the arc. Two of those have come in the last two years. Gordon’s game has fallen off.
Shooting certainly could be one of the justifications for signing Gordon. Unless he is about to return to the mean, it feels like a considerably weak one.
Many have pointed to Gordon’s $4.5 million price tag as a reason for his signing. True, it is a very low-risk deal for Gordon. The team has an option for the second year and can easily cut ties with him after this year. That is what Orlando is expected to do.
Did the Magic really need to pay that money? According to Basketball-Insiders, the Magic have guaranteed themselves $38.3 million in salary this year, and $47.2 million if all non-guaranteed contracts become guaranteed. The payroll floor is expected to be set at 90 percent of the projected $63.2 million cap — $56.9 million. Gordon’s deal does not get the Magic to the payroll floor.
So while the Gordon deal does add payroll to the Magic’s salary situation, it does not get the Magic to the payroll floor. They are still nearly $10 million short.
Not that the payroll floor is a major penalty. The only penalty for the payroll floor is to distribute the amount the team is under the payroll to the remaining players on the roster. It is just a guaranteed amount each team has to pay.
The payroll floor is not an issue and shooting is not a main reason for signing Gordon, then what is it?
Leadership is certainly part of it. He made an appearance at Summer League in Orlando on Sunday and told Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders that taking on the leadership role in the locker room is something he is looking forward to in signing with the Magic:
One thing you learn about the league is different years you’re in different situations,” Gordon said. “This is something I’m familiar with, playing with a group of young guys. I’m just looking to feed off of their energy and I’m going to assist them in any way I can and just be a big part of their success and at the same time just kind of revitalize myself. I’m giving myself another opportunity to go out there and be successful.
Gordon has been in the NBA and knows he is on his last legs. He has to be there to push the younger players to stay hungry. He also has to come in knowing that the young players are the ones the team is focusing on. He must have accepted a bench role before putting pen to paper (or verbally agreeing, in this case) and will not raise any problems if Elfrid Payton or Victor Oladipo are starting over him.
Certainly the familiarity the Magic’s staff has with Gordon will help. Matt Lloyd and Scott Perry worked with Gordon in their previous jobs in Chicago and Detroit. They know what kind of person Gordon is — especially when he was at his very best. They must have faith that he will not disrupt things in the locker room.
And Gordon spoke highly of his previous relationship with those two in interviews with Kennedy and Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.
These explanations hold some water clearly. Do they satisfy Magic fans with a healthy bit of skepticism after two years of losing?
That is what everyone is trying to make sense of.