Is Orlando’s Aaron Gordon an NBA Max Contract Player?
The NBA’s 2018 free agency period will sport some of the Association’s biggest names. Paul George, Chris Paul, DeMarcus Cousins, and Chris Paul will all be on the market with plenty of teams vying for their services. However, one of the most underrated players entering free agency for the first time has hardly been in the limelight outside of Florida this year. That player is Orlando Magic forward and dunk contest dynamo Aaron “Air” Gordon.
Aaron Gordon is in the midst of a breakout season. He’s averaging 18.6 ppg and 8.1 rpg on 45% shooting from the field and 36% from three. Gordon has improved almost every aspect of his game this season. He has become more comfortable as a pick-and-roll ball handler, a shooter, and as the consistent #1 option for the Magic.
Gordon will be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2018 and history suggests that he will most likely receive a max contract offer from the Magic or another team this summer. For most teams, it would be a no-brainer to give a player with as much upside as Gordon the max but the Magic’s circumstances may cause them to be hesitant.
Gordon is so hard to evaluate as a player because of the talent around him. The Magic have not finished a single season with a winning record since he was drafted to the team and he has never played with anyone who is anything close to an All-Star caliber player. The Magic should be encouraged by the amount of improvement he has shown but he has still not separated himself as a player you can build a team around. The Magic are in desperate need of a franchise cornerstone and there are significant consequences that come with committing that much money to Gordon. Orlando already has around 84 million dollars of cap space taken up for next season and Gordon could potentially demand 106 million over 4 years if the team signs him to the max. This would hamper the team’s ability to improve through free agency and they cannot move away their undesirable contracts without attaching valuable assets. The only way for the Magic to improve would be through the draft, but unfortunately they do not have a dazzling record there ever since the end of the Dwight Howard era. Part of the reason for this is because while they are consistently in the lottery, the Magic are never bad enough to secure a top-3 pick where they have the best chance at landing a future superstar. It is too early to give up on Jonathan Isaac but aside from him, Gordon remains the only player on the roster that has shown legitimate star potential. For a team already four years into a rebuild, it doesn’t look like they are anywhere close to competing for a playoff spot. Signing Gordon could potentially result in the Magic being stuck in the same position they’ve been for the last few years: bad but not bad enough to get a surefire prospect in the draft. Or it could result in them maxing out a player who is a high caliber starter, but might not reach the star status to justify that contract.
While there are some long-term risks in giving Gordon a max contract, the Magic must retain him at any cost. Gordon may not be an All-Star yet but he has proven enough this season to say that the potential for him to reach that level is there. With his speed, strength, and newfound shooting ability, he is a tough assignment for many other forwards to deal with. He also flashed enough defensive versatility to become a valuable two-way player that can guard all five positions on the floor. The Magic cannot afford to lose Gordon. Trading him right before he hits free agency would mean accepting less than he’s worth. Although there are only a few teams with cap space, they would jump at the chance to sign Gordon even if it meant giving him a max contract. Teams like the Phoenix Suns would jump at the chance to pair a dynamic power forward like Gordon with Devin Booker. If the Lakers fail to sign their top targets in free agency, Gordon would be a great back up plan. The cost of keeping him is a necessary expenditure for the Magic. If he continues to improve, the Magic will have a star player under contract that will either help them get back into playoff contention or an asset that can be flipped to start the next phase of their rebuild. For now, Aaron Gordon should be the Magic’s guy for the present and the future.