Aaron Gordon‘s upcoming free agency could be a market-setting one this summer. The Orlando Magic will have to fend off several suitors to keep him.
Gordon has had a breakout year, averaging a career-best 18.4 points per game and displaying a much-improved 3-point shot with 34.6 percent (down a bit from a torrid pace at the beginning of the season). At 22 years old, Gordon’s growth seems limitless.
The final 25 games for Gordon are a bit of a final audition. Perhaps for a bigger contract from the Magic. . . or elsewhere.
And Gordon will have his suitors in free agency.
Even in a market that will see very few teams with max cap room. There are several teams that appear ready to line up and take the risk of going after Gordon in restricted free agency.
Sean Deveney of The Sporting News reports the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks and Indiana Pacers all seem willing to take a run at Gordon. How the Magic decide to handle Gordon’s free agency could help set the market for other restricted free agents. And, most obviously, set the course for the Magic’s future.
"And there’s Gordon. What happens with him should go a long way toward directing the market for restricted free agency this year. The Class of 2014 has taken a good deal of criticism for its underperformance, some of it deserved. But there have been some unsigned players having solid years, too. The market for restricted free agents has not always been kind. Maybe that will change in 2018."
The league saw few players from Gordon’s 2014 Draft Class sign extensions. It was both a statement of how disappointing the group has been, or how late it has been to blossom and the realities of a tight free-agent market.
The Mavericks are one of the few teams with ample cap room to make a run at a big-name free agent. The fact the team is rebuilding — admittedly so — could make them willing to go after a young player like Gordon and invest in him heavily.
The same could be said for the Suns. They do not have as much cap room this summer but could clear a lot of money if they move Tyson Chandler. It is also worthy to note they have the inside track at signing another restricted free agent no one seems to know how to value — Elfrid Payton.
And the Pacers have very little money committed to next year. Three players — Bojan Bogdanovic, Al Jefferson and Darren Collison could each make $10 million next year but all have non-guaranteed deals next year. The Pacers could clear room by cutting any of those players before the free agency period starts. Jefferson seems like he would be gone, clearing $6 million from their books.
And, again, Aaron Gordon and Victor Oladipo already have an established relationship. Although not quite at the level either player is playing at right now.
Ultimately, though, the Magic hold the keys. Gordon is a restricted free agent. That means if Gordon agrees to sign with another team, the Magic have three days to match that exact offer.
As much as those team sare all rebuilding and perhaps willing to take a risk on a young player on a big deal, the Magic are in the same position.
As for Gordon? Gordon said at the beginning of the season he would not let thoughts about his impending free agency give him “unpure” thoughts.
He seemed unconcerned about what lay in store in July, focusing instead on what is to come the rest of this season first. He wants to finish this season strong and keep the high expectations he has for himself.
"“I just have so much more to go,” Gordon said. “Just a ton more in the tank. It’s just the tip of the iceberg, fellas. It’s not over. I’m trying to master this game. I don’t care about the money. I care a lot about the wins. I care about mastering this game. Hopefully, with mastering this game comes the wins. I love the game, I love to play. I like to be with these guys playing and enjoying it.”"
Will teams be willing to make poison pill deals or use other tricks to wrest him away from the Magic? Can Orlando really afford to let a young, promising player like him walk? Especially with a fan base still frustrated with the Oladipo trade two years ago?
Those are questions president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman will have to answer this summer when Gordon’s restricted free agency plays out.
It seems just as likely the Magic will agree to a deal with Gordon — Deveney estimates a four-year, $100 million contract — and the team will not go through this dance. It could be the Magic tell Gordon to go get a max offer sheet and then come back to negotiate a deal more favorable to both.
Orlando at least explored Gordon’s trade market at the deadline, according to several reports. But the team likely was asking for a king’s ransom for him. That indicates the Magic want to keep him this summer.
How the Magic handle Gordon’s free agency will obviously change things for the franchise’s future. For both the long- and short-term.