Aaron Gordon’s frustrating season ends as Orlando Magic send him home

Aaron Gordon's season is over as the Orlando Magic have sent him home from the campus to better rehab his strained left hamstring. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images)
Aaron Gordon's season is over as the Orlando Magic have sent him home from the campus to better rehab his strained left hamstring. (Photo by Kim Klement-Pool/Getty Images) /

Aaron Gordon had a frustrating season filled with injuries that left him coming up short. Now his year is over as the team has sent him home from the campus

The question came every day for coach Steve Clifford, the gatekeeper to the locked room that is the Orlando Magic’s practice across teleconferences and the campus walls (figurative as they are).

What was Aaron Gordon’s status? How was he progressing? How close was he to a return?

The answer always seemed to be: He is getting better. He is getting closer and doing more. He is doing all he can to be ready. But. . .

Always that but. He was not able to do enough. He was struggling to get up and down the court on the strained hamstring that kept him out since Aug. 5.

Knowing Aaron Gordon, it was clear how much he wanted to be out on the floor. Knowing Gordon, it was clear he was doing all he could. But without him speaking and with the Magic locked away, it was hard to know just how close he was.

All anyone had was Clifford’s word.

And certainly, frustration was growing both externally with fans knowing how much the team needed Gordon in this playoff series with the Milwaukee Bucks, but also internally with a player doing all he can and running out of time to return.

That time is now up. Not because the Magic have been eliminated from the playoffs — the team is still waiting to find out when it will play Game 5 after the league postponed games following the Bucks’ walk-out before Wednesday’s scheduled game — but because Gordon is heading home.

The Magic announced Gordon has left the campus because of his strained left hamstring, perhaps hinting the injury is more severe than they were previously letting on.

The injury occurred in the Orlando Magic’s Aug. 5 game against the Toronto Raptors. Aaron Gordon went up for a dunk and got hit in the chest by Kyle Lowry, forcing him to land awkwardly. He clutched his hamstring immediately. The shouting match with Lowry became good fan fodder, but the anger was legitimate on that inherently dangerous play.

But the injury was serious. Hamstrings are not a simple recovery like an ankle. A lot of other muscles are involved.

The Magic were concerned as he made his recovery that pushing him too hard or sending him to the floor too quickly would lead to other more serious injuries.

As has always been the case, taking care of the player is still the first priority. And if Gordon could not play at or near his best, it would be tough to play him at all. Let alone set him up for a good offseason. At 24 years old, Gordon still has a lot of improvement ahead of him.

Still, the frustration remains. And this is a frustrating way to end a frustrating season for him.

Gordon entered the year with high expectations. After a promising showing in the 2019 Playoffs against the Raptors, Gordon had some people picking him to be a first-time All-Star.

Injuries slowed him down from the very start. He dealt with nagging injuries after getting popped in the jaw during the team’s second preseason game. Then he sprained his ankle in a game in November.

Gordon came back quickly, but he was clearly slow a step. He admitted in January that he was still feeling some lingering effects from the injury. It took him a while to get himself right.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

But he got there. It was not merely his stunning and breath-taking Slam Dunk Contest performance. He started playing at a higher tempo and displaying the versatile play that had everyone excited for him from the beginning of the year.

Of course, the pandemic slowed him down again. And an injury naturally ended his season.

Overall, it was a disappointing season. Gordon averaged 14.4 points per game and 7.7 rebounds per game. He shot a 48.4-percent effective field goal percentage, his worst mark since his rookie year.

There were signs he was starting to rebound. He was getting healthier.

From Feb. 1 until the season stopped for the pandemic, Gordon averaged 17.3 points per game, 8.8 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game. He shot a 51.6-percent effective field goal percentage. That included his first career triple-double.

Gordon was having a strong run through the seeding round too. He averaged 15.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, shooting a 57.3-percent effective field goal percentage. It certainly felt like Gordon was just getting started.

Gordon eagerly awaited a second shot at the playoffs. He played well in last year’s postseason and talked about how awe-inspiring the experience was. It made him a better player and was a moment he seemed capable of rising up to.

He would have had a tall task defending Giannis Antetokounmpo in the playoff series with the Bucks. But Gordon has always proven up to the challenge. He was last year in trying to slow down Kawhi Leonard. And Orlando has lacked a bit of an offensive attack and a secondary playmaker without him on the floor.

That will not happen. Gordon will have an offseason to get himself ready and, hopefully, avoid injury. That is something that has not been easy in his career.

Of course, the offseason brings uncertainty too. Gordon is already at the center of several trade rumors. The Magic’s future itself feels in the air as the team looks to build and advance from its cameo in the postseason.

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That is a lot of uncertainty. Gordon will have to get himself healthy first. Rest is probably the best and only way to do that at this point. It was not happening inside the campus at the least.