Aaron Gordon must prove he is worth Orlando Magic’s investment

Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon has agreed to a four-year deal worth about $84 million to stay with the Magic. He is pictured here as he slam dunks over Brooklyn Nets forward Trevor Booker (35) at the Amway Center on Tuesday, October 24, 2017. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon has agreed to a four-year deal worth about $84 million to stay with the Magic. He is pictured here as he slam dunks over Brooklyn Nets forward Trevor Booker (35) at the Amway Center on Tuesday, October 24, 2017. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic put their money down to keep Aaron Gordon. Now Gordon has to prove is worth again and take ownership of this team.

At some point during the last few weeks, Aaron Gordon’s Instagram page made a major change. His Instagram username changed to @youngheirgordon. Clearly a play on words for Gordon’s dunking exploits but something else instructive of the mantle and responsibility he wanted to accept.

Perhaps this is all reading too much into the mind of a 22-year-old person. A young man still trying to make his way in the world. A man with a plenty serious mind but still a kid in many ways. It might be meaningful of nothing more than an inside joke.

Still, the name feels fitting for Gordon after Sunday. That day he became the heir apparent to the Magic and their hopes of finally turning the corner on this never-ending rebuild.

In a flurry of social media posts — he is 22 years old, it bears repeating, and everything has to be shared — Gordon announced he was staying with the Orlando Magic. The young forward who had his breakout season in 2018, just in time for a new contract, was going to remain in Orlando.

Shams Charania of Yahoo! Sports reported, and Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel confirmed, it was a four-year, $84-million deal. Gordon did not get the max contract he professed he wanted. The market seemed to dry up quickly for him as the few teams with cap room spent it elsewhere. He still got a handsome deal from the Magic in the end.

Whether that deal is worth it, in the end, will all turn back to that name change Gordon undertook this offseason. With that great contract comes a great responsibility. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. And the heir to the Magic’s throne can no longer trade on potential. Now he has to deliver.

Even if the contract is not a flat $21 million per year, it will likely make Gordon the highest paid player on the team. With Mario Hezonja agreeing to a deal with the New York Knicks, Aaron Gordon is the only player Rob Hennigan drafted remaining on the team.

Jeff Weltman and John Hammond did not draft Aaron Gordon and had no ties to him. They could have easily justified letting him walk to build their own vision of the team rather than remained tied to a failed pass. Even if it is difficult to let a promising 22-year-old player leave without any assets in return.

Instead, they invested in Gordon. They saw the work he put in last year — a career year where he averaged a career-best 17.6 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game and 33.6 percent 3-point shooting — and bet he would continue to improve.

If a rookie contract is meant to establish a player’s value and what he can be in the league, then that second contract is about confirming that worth. It is about living up to the promise a player has.

The player must take his game to new heights. It is a bet on the future and an investment on what that player will become. He either makes good on that promise or he does not.

Orlando is now betting Gordon has not reached his peak and that he can continue to grow. They are betting he can be a leader and help the team win beyond his individual stats. And they are trusting him with that responsibility to deliver for the team.

Gordon has always seemed to have the ambition to take on this role. That max contract ambition was a product of Gordon’s heightened self-confidence. He always believed he was a player capable of being great.

Last year proved that he could begin approaching that level.

He had his growing pains for sure. Gordon dominated the ball too much and tried to take over games with inefficient shots and overdribbling. He was at his best when he played, as Frank Vogel said, “within the flow of the offense” getting shots off ball reversals, cutting to the basket and scoring in transition.

Gordon can still grow his game and improve his weaknesses. But it will be key to him unlocking that star potential.

That is what the Magic are hoping happens in the next four years. Indeed, it is fair to say the franchise is depending on it now.

The Magic have made Gordon their central piece. The one established next to Mohamed Bamba and Jonathan Isaac as they come into their own on their own rookie contracts.

But for now, this is Gordon’s team. It is his time to shine and own the team and all of its results. He is truly the heir to this team and whatever it is about to become. That is the responsibility that comes with being the highest paid player on a team.

There still remains doubt about just what Gordon can become. Giving Gordon a big contract still carries with it a lot of risk. There was still a fair argument that Weltman could have let Gordon walk rather than tie up his team’s future in a player he did not draft.

Despite all his confidence and how he has played, Gordon has not done anything consistently. An array of injuries have slowed his career throughout — from a fractured foot as a rookie to a broken jaw to a sprained ankle to concussions. The team has not seen Gordon at his very best for an extended period of time.

Gordon ended up playing in just 58 games last year. Hardly a full sample size of Gordon at his peak level of play. And his teams still have not won. That is something he told Marc Spears of the Undefeated that still eats at him and motivates him.

To be sure, Gordon will hold a lot of responsibility in righting that ship. The Magic will need him to do so. That is part of the responsibility that comes with such a large contract.

Orlando undoubtedly took care of Gordon financially. They invested him and proved their believe. The team also got him at less than it might have in a more robust market.

The Magic have made their investment now. They have set the course for their immediate future. Both with their long-term investments in young players and now this investment in Gordon and his future.

The expectation is for Gordon to take that next step now. This is his team to take as far as he can.

Next: Orlando Magic Offseason Manifesto: Gauging the free agent and trade markets

Gordon is the heir to the team’s hope and dreams. He is certainly paid like it. Now he has to deliver and cease being a potentially great player. That is the responsibility before him now in this next phase of his career.