You don’t trade Eric Gordon.
If you are the Clippers, you can’t afford to. But perhaps most importantly, you don’t need to.
We talk about how a team that wants to keep Blake Griffin has to do what it can to re-sign his good friend, DeAndre Jordan, but somewhere along the line we skipped the part where the the team needs to hang onto the 22-year old that is already one of the best guards in the league. The guy who, if offered the money he deserves, will almost certainly commit to being the “second fiddle” to Blake Griffin. And with those two locked in, you can only begin to imagine the possibilities for a team that has become infinitely more appealing to top players over the past year.
The pressure to win is understandable, but the Clippers don’t need overpay for Chris Paul or Dwight Howard when their concern is contending for (at least) the next five years. With an abundance of assets at his disposal, Neil Olshey can afford to be patient as the trade market clears up. He has the flexibility to make a competitive offer should a deal present itself, but can be comfortable that no other team is likely to offer a player of Gordon’s caliber.
He can and should hold firm with his insistence that Clippers’ future relies on both Griffin and Gordon. As he looks toward the five seasons of Griffin’s second contract, he knows he could have on his team not only the best power forward in the league, but the best shooting guard, as well. To mortgage that very real possibility by including Gordon in a move to make a an immediate splash just seems shortsighted.
As John Hollinger wrote when examining possible trade scenarios: Russell Westbrook is out. “Not happening. Move along. Nothing to see here.” We’ve said it here before, but the connection between the Clippers’ situation and Oklahoma City’s runs deep, and for the same reasons Sam Presti won’t discuss his second star, Olshey can operate from a position of leverage and hang onto his. There is a reason why neither of Hollinger’s Clipper proposals include Gordon — they aren’t likely to deal him but that isn’t going to stop them from presenting very serious offers.
A closer look at a Chris Paul deal
Ryan Schwan of Hornets247.com ran some numbers to quantify Paul’s contributions, just as a scorer, to New Orleans. He found:
- A team needs enough quality to win 55 wins or more in order to be a real contender for a championship.
- A team, on average, needs to scores 5 more points per game than their opponent to win 55 games or more.
- Chris Paul, over his career, scores 1.46 points per shot.
- An average player scores 1.22 points per shot.
- Over 11 shots per game (Paul’s average last year) Paul adds a +2.64 to the Hornets point differential compared the to NBA average.
In other words, Paul gets you more than halfway to contender status if you fill the rest of the team with purely average scorers and defenders. By himself.
Last year, neither Gordon (1.31) nor the untradeable Westbrook (1.29) could match Paul’s career rate of points per shot (1.46). But if you consider that both Gordon and Westbrook shoot around 17 times per game to Paul’s 11 — and are 1.53 and 1.19 points per shot better than average, respectively, when you account for the increased attempts — you see their value as scorers.
Essentially, Paul has made New Orleans a playoff team by personally adding 2.64 points per shot above the average NBA player to his team’s efforts. If they simply repeat what they did last year, Gordon and Griffin (who also averaged about 17 shots per game and produced 2.05 more points per shot than the average player), would be contributing 3.58 points by themselves. That is to say nothing of contributions in other areas (i.e. Gordon’s impact as a defender, Blake’s dominance on the glass) or the likelihood that one or both of these young players will show improvement this season.
What does this mean? Like the Hornets, the Clippers with Gordon and Griffin find themselves with disproportionate production coming from one or two roster spots, and therefore could find themselves in playoff position by simply filling out the rotation with average scorers and defenders. This is important, because it reminds us that the roster, as currently constituted, is still in great shape if a deal doesn’t materialize.
Even without Gordon, Olshey is sitting there, armed with all the essential components to deal for a superstar: young players with upside (DeAndre Jordan, Eric Bledsoe and Al-Farouq Aminu), productive veterans on short contracts (Chris Kaman and Mo Williams), Minnesota’s unprotected first round pick in this year’s draft, and the salary cap flexibility to absorb undesirable contracts. He has at his disposal a complete, one-stop-shop rebuilding kit ready to unload on a team like New Orleans when it decides to trade its star. There is no Gordon, but the Hornets will almost certainly find that they won’t find a Gordon elsewhere, either, and their best hope to replace Paul is probably going to come the same way it did when they got him in the first place: through the draft.
Olshey is standing at the plate with a 3-1 count, just waiting for a fastball down the middle. You can only hope he knows not to swing at a pitch in the dirt and forfeit his leverage in the count by giving up Gordon. That, with three premier players on the market now or next summer (Paul, Howard and Deron Williams), it might not be such a bad thing to take a walk.
You don’t sit back and let an opportunity to acquire another star just slip away, but a little restraint could go a long way at a time when the franchise is bursting with promise and every other team knows it. General managers would be silly not to ask about Gordon, but that doesn’t mean the Clippers have some sort of obligation to give him up — even if we are talking about Chris Paul and Dwight Howard.
It’s conceivable that some team surprises and offers an established, young player as the cornerstone of a deal. The Hornets could decide that, say, Rajon Rondo and a draft pick (presumably the Clippers’ top-10 protected 1st rounder) for Paul were a superior offer to the Rebuild Special we outlined above.
You could argue that between Rondo’s contract (four years and about $45 million remaining) and skill set with his limitations as a scorer, he would be a questionable fit on a barren Hornets roster. You could say that Eric Bledsoe, with three years left on his rookie contract and oozing with potential, makes more sense at point guard to develop alongside Aminu and/or Jordan and the slew of lottery picks you’ll be in line for. But it could happen.
The Magic could choose to send Howard to the Lakers for Andrew Bynum or to the Nets for Brook Lopez, both of whom provide elite offensive production in the post. But Bynum’s health and attitude remain in question and Lopez is about to get expensive and doesn’t rebound. You might even say here that DeAndre Jordan, 23 years old and the superior athlete, could be a better value than over the course of his next contract.
Either of these trades could certainly happen. Perception can become reality when it comes to immediate trade reaction, and pressure from ownership and fans can influence the priorities of G.M. in this position. There is a degree of certainty that comes with choosing a package built around a player rather than a draft pick. That said, no team expected to be in the hunt for Paul or Howard possesses a pick with the franchise-changing potential of Minnesota’s.
When teams ask for Gordon, it would be wise to survey the market and recognize that you can put forth a pretty damn good offer without him. And that if two (or three, depending on what happens with the first two) teams decide that it’s not good enough, you could be in a worse spot than asking Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon to lead your team to the playoffs, with a golden lottery ticket and a ton cap flexibility coming your way next summer.