Broadly speaking, fans and experts met the Orlando Magic's reported agreement on contract terms with free-agent guard Ben Gordon with skepticism and confusion. Grantland scribe Zach Lowe called the choice "weird," readers of Orlando Pinstriped Post reacted to the news in this way, and ESPN Insider analyst Kevin Pelton likened it to "basically lighting money on fire."
What exactly is Magic general manager Rob Hennigan up to? What use does a rebuilding squad have for an undersized, shot-happy off guard on the wrong side of 30? And why pay him $4.5 million when other suitors might only offer him a salary in range of the league minimum? We'll try to suss it out.
Why adding Ben Gordon makes sense
Let's make one aspect of this story clear: $4.5 million is a lot to pay a player of Gordon's caliber, but it's not a lot for the Magic, who have money to spare. As Lowe notes, Orlando can spend freely, and the two-year pact doesn't hinder the team's long-term flexibility. Indeed, given that the second season is reportedly at the Magic's option, Orlando can rid itself of Gordon after, or even during, one season.
And Gordon, for his considerable faults, theoretically offers the Magic something they desperately need: shooting. In his last season with the Charlotte Hornets, Gordon connected on only eight three-pointers in 19 appearances. But in his nine prior pro seasons, Gordon shot 40.4 percent on treys, with only one season below 38.7 percent. From that one particular basketball standpoint, one can begin to understand Gordon's appeal to Orlando.
Why adding Ben Gordon doesn't make sense
Gordon's exile from Charlotte--he made only three appearances after January 1st, and the team made sure he wouldn't play in the postseason by waiving him a day after the deadline for playoff eligibility passed--raises questions about his professionalism. It's telling that Charlotte, making a run at the playoffs under coach Steve Clifford and with free-agent signee Al Jefferson anchoring the post, had no use for Gordon, preferring instead to play the likes of Gerald Henderson, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on the wings. And a year earlier, in Gordon's first Bobcats season, coach Mike Dunlap reportedly booted him from a practice for being "beyond disrespectful" during a shootaround.
To another point, for all the good his outside shooting might do Orlando if he rediscovers his stroke, he offers the Magic no real long-term upside. If Orlando wanted to add shooting via free agency, it might have found a younger, arguably more talented player for cheaper. On the same day the Magic reportedly agreed to terms with Gordon, the Indiana Pacers inked Croatian shooting specialist Damjan Rudež, for example. A year earlier, the Detroit Pistons turned heads by signing Italian free agent Luigi Datome to fill a similar role. Later that offseason, undrafted rookie Ian Clark parlayed strong performances in the Orlando Pro and Las Vegas Summer Leagues into a contract with the Utah Jazz.
Outside shooting is both a valuable skill and one that's in ready supply in the free-agent bargain bin. Why Orlando chose a chance to resurrect Gordon's flagging career over a potentially more rewarding option remains unclear.
The decision to sign Gordon fails to inspire confidence because it is, at its core, creative, inside-the-box, and safe. He is a known commodity with clearly defined strengths and weaknesses. He is past his peak. He only advances Orlando's rebuilding effort if the Magic manage to acquire an asset in trading his contract, which deal may become attractive due to the team option on its second season.
There's no real risk involved in signing Gordon, but the chances of Orlando's reaping a reward are equally slim.