We're a week away from the NBA trade deadline, and things have felt a bit too quiet, haven't they?
Fear not, friends: Gery Woelfel is here, and the trade rumor echo chamber is primed and ready to rock.
Rest assured, Bucks officials will be closely scrutinizing Pelicans guard Eric Gordon, subject of trade rumors.— Gery Woelfel (@GeryWoelfel) February 13, 2014
That vague tweet spurred a slew of "Bucks interested in Eric Gordon!" stories, though less than a day later Bill Ingram of Basketball Insiders did some of his own scrutinizing via Twitter.
The report that the Bucks are interested in Eric Gordon are "completely untrue" according to well placed source...FYI— Bill Ingram (@TheRocketGuy) February 14, 2014
So let's recap: Eric Gordon is the still-fairly-young (25), injury-plagued, high-scoring, super overpaid shooting guard of the New Orleans Pelicans. You may recall him scoring 21 points in the Pelicans' narrow win over the Bucks on Wednesday. Or you may recall him as the highly-touted scoring dynamo who went from Indiana freshman phenom in 2008 to efficient 22 point per game scorer for the Clippers in 2011. And you may also recall him being the centerpiece of the package that went to New Orleans in the Chris Paul trade, and the guy whose three years in New Orleans have been marked mostly by injuries and rumors of his imminent departure.
First it was Gordon who desperately wanted the then-Hornets not to match a four-year, $58 million max offer sheet he signed with the Suns as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2012. But since then it's been the Pellies who have been less enthused about a future with Gordon. They presumably didn't give Tyreke Evans $44 million to be a 25 minute per game sixth man, and paying $15 million per season for a good-but-not-great starter (when he's actually healthy) isn't anyone's definition of good value. Now that Gordon is finally healthy, moving him has become much more feasible, though it's also not entirely clear how desperate the Pelicans are to deal. I don't see any compelling reason for the Bucks to go after Gordon if they have to give up bona fide assets, so for the purposes of this discussion I'll assume a salary dump scenario would be workable.
So is there any good reason for the league-worst Bucks to be
showing interest in scrutinizing Gordon? Well, you could argue that Gordon's contract alone makes him a clearly negative asset, and there's no reason for the Bucks to even consider taking on his contract if they can't rid themselves of one or two of their own ugly deals in the process. Yannis Koutroupis of Basketball Insiders suggests Caron Butler's expiring deal as a starting point, with O.J. Mayo or Ersan Ilyasova as a secondary piece.
Even with his checkered injury history, it's not to say that it's all downside with Gordon. Could he become the kind of youngish all-star that the Bucks desperately need? It's not completely out of the realm of possibility--he was essentially playing all-star caliber ball three years ago before the trade that sent him to New Orleans. But that was before cartilage damage to his right knee cost Gordon more than a season's worth of games, and he hasn't looked the same ever since. Considering how much he sulked over his offer sheet being matched, there's also the obvious question of whether he'd just mope his way through his final two years in Milwaukee.
I'm not sure why the Bucks would even consider taking on Gordon's remaining two years and $30 million without at least shipping out Mayo, though even that probably isn't enough to make it worth the risk for the Bucks. To put things in perspective, Mayo's numbers last year in Dallas (13.9 PER, 55.6% TS, 16.0 pts/36) were rather similar to those that Gordon is putting up now (15.1 PER, 52.9% TS, 17.4 pts/36), except Gordon's owed basically double the $16 million that the underachieving Mayo is set to earn over the next seasons. The counterargument would be that Mayo's time in Milwaukee has been a disaster to date, and Gordon would be a clear upgrade over whatever Mayo is bringing right now. But that's also not justification on its own to go chasing third bananas making max money. In the world of the NBA salary cap, "less bad" doesn't equate to "good." Ditto with Butler, whom I'd prefer the Bucks simply allow to expire this summer rather than use as bait to take on a middling big-money contract.
Which brings me to a bigger point: while the Bucks aren't in bad shape cap-wise, that could change quickly if they acquired a max contract that goes bad. The Bucks currently have 12 guys under contract totaling $49 million in 14/15, with a top four pick adding an additional cap hold worth between $3.3 million (#4) and $4.6 million (#1). If the cap ends up in the neighborhood of $60 million, they'd have somewhere between $6 and $8 million in space with 13 guys already accounted for this coming summer. That's not a ton of money for free agent purposes, especially considering that teams over the cap but under the luxury tax get the $5 million-ish mid-level exception automatically. But remember that cap space offers more flexibility than the MLE, especially if you're looking to make trades with lopsided salaries rather than just sign middling veterans to free agent deals. Hint: that should matter to a team like the Bucks.
If the Bucks did swing a Mayo/Butler package for Gordon (hypothetically), you'd immediately add about $7 million in salary each of the next two seasons, leaving very little flexibility each of the next two summers. You could undo the adverse cap hit of Gordon's deal by sending Ilyasova and Mayo instead, though at that point there's a deck chairs-on-the-Titanic argument that could be made from both sides. New Orleans presumably wants to shed long-term salary and add a nice asset in a Gordon deal, but I'm guessing doing both isn't feasible at this point. And if you're Milwaukee, I don't think providing either makes a lot of sense.
I'd also be hesitant to make a huge commitment to a shooting guard ahead of the draft, which features a number of players that could factor into the Bucks' backcourt rotation. Andrew Wiggins looks like more of a tall guard than a small forward to me right now, and that's probably where the Bucks would peg him long term given Giannis Antetokounmpo is better suited to the small forward spot. Meanwhile, Dante Exum and Marcus Smart both have the size to play either guard spot, and for now I like the idea of a dirt cheap Brandon Knight with one of those guys rather than Gordon.
Ingram's tweet suggests the Bucks may well have come to the same skeptical conclusion about Gordon, though given the Bucks' dire straits I'd say it's at least worth asking these kinds of questions. Unfortunately in this case, Gordon looks like someone who provides more questions than answers.
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