There’s little doubt that, ahead of last week’s NBA trading deadline, the Magic were beating the bushes to see what could be brought back in a trade for forward Aaron Gordon.
Golden State was among the teams with whom the Magic discussed a Gordon trade. So were the Timberwolves. Those two wound up making the most significant trade of the deadline period, swapping D’Angelo Russell for Andrew Wiggins. Orlando had been interested in Russell last summer when he was a restricted free agent.
There was chatter, too, involving the Suns. But Gordon, the No. 4 pick of the 2014 draft, is still with the Magic. Perhaps not for long — executives around the league expect that Gordon will be back on the trade block in the offseason, too.
As one source told Heavy.com, “They were trying, and they tried hard to get something done with him at the deadline. All that gets brought back into focus once the season is over and you have a good idea what the market is for him.”
Gordon has not been clamoring for a trade—he’s happy in Orlando—but he does not have a smooth fit with the Magic and where the team is headed in the future. Even with a knee injury, the Magic see Jonathan Isaac as the anchor of the frontcourt in the coming years, with Nikola Vucevic eventually giving way to Mo Bamba at center.
It’s hoped that Chuma Okeke, selected with the No. 16 pick in last year draft and effectively given a “redshirt year” this season as he recovers from ACL surgery, becomes Isaac’s frontcourt partner when he is healthy. That could take a while but one of the positives on Okeke’s predraft resume was that he was counted as NBA-ready.
If that’s the case, it’s hard to see where Gordon’s Magic future lies. Most likely, his future is elsewhere.
Gordon and Isaac Don’t Fit for Magic
Gordon is a very tradeable asset. He signed a four-year contract worth $76 million in 2018 and the deal was structured with a descending salary, making a trade easier as the contract goes on. Gordon gets $19.8 million this season, but that drops to $18.1 million next year and $16.4 million in 2021-22.
Having Gordon on a two-year deal worth $34.5 million not a bad value for teams outside Orlando.
It was difficult to trade Gordon here in February, though, because he opened the season with an extended slump. He averaged 13.2 points and shot just 40.4 percent from the field through January 1.
That was in part because Isaac, in his third season and in search of a breakout year, was being given more offensive responsibility in Orlando. He took 2.0 more field-goal attempts per game and Gordon’s shot totals took a hit, dropping by 0.9 per game.
Isaac took more shots at the rim, 36.6 percent of his attempts, up from 29.9 percent. Again, that cost Gordon, whose percentage of shots taken at the rim dropped from 32.8 percent to 30.2 percent. Isaac went out with a knee injury in early January and it’s little wonder that Gordon’s numbers have rebounded since: 15.1 points, 44.7 percent shooting.
The question of whether Isaac and Gordon can co-exist has been bubbling in Orlando for two years. This season appeared to drive home the answer: They can’t.
Nets, Nuggets Among Gordon Trade Targets?
If there’s a glimmer of positivity in news that Isaac will remain out for the remainder of the season, as team president Jeff Weltman announced this week, it’s that Gordon will have the rest of the season to continue to rebuild his trade value. In the long-term, that will benefit the Magic.
The upcoming free-agent market is especially weak and there will be a handful of rebuilding teams looking for players who can begin to contribute quickly. Gordon is only 24 years old and while his offensive development has come in fits and starts, he is a solid and versatile defender.
The Magic badly need backcourt help. Evan Fournier has a player option he is expected to exercise ($17 million) for next season, but he is not the long-term answer at shooting guard. Markelle Fultz has had a nice rejuvenation season at the point, but the Magic need depth there, too.
Phoenix figures to remain a potential target for a Gordon trade. The Mavericks, too, have long had interest in Gordon, but would struggle to put together a worthwhile package for the Magic.
A pair of potential swaps to watch, according to buzz around the league: Brooklyn, with Spencer Dinwiddie as the Magic’s main return, and Denver, with Gary Harris and a draft pick coming back.
In his last time out, Gordon logged 26 points on 10-for-20 shooting in a Magic win over the Hawks. He added nine rebounds and four assists. More performances like that will bolster his trade value and he probably could use the change of scenery.
Orlando tried to move him last week. It’ll try again in a few months.