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Aaron Gordon’s contract and how LeBron James may have saved the Magic money

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A breakdown of Gordon’s recently-signed four-year, $76 million contract

NBA: Orlando Magic at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Now that summer league is over, the free agency frenzy has died down, and the Isaiah Thomas Twitter follows and Instagram likes no longer mean anything, let’s take a look into the contract that Aaron Gordon signed with the Magic on July 1.


LeBron James had hit game-winning buzzer beaters against the Magic. He had helped the Cavs build what had been a nearly 20-game winning streak against Orlando. He has long ruled an Eastern Conference that, for more than a half decade, the Magic have been irrelevant in.

But on July 1, LeBron may have actually done the Magic a favor.

That was the day the Orlando Magic were able to lock up Aaron Gordon for the next four years on a very team-friendly contract. And for that, the Magic can thank a few opposing NBA general managers….and possibly LeBron.

Had LeBron not gone Hollywood, opting instead to finish his career in Cleveland, the Lakers would have been left with a lot of money to spend, a dwindling free agent market, and a need for some star power.

Enter Gordon, a California native who grew up just a few short hours away from Los Angeles.

By the time this tweet surfaced at 6:18 p.m. on July 1, the market for Gordon, a 22-year old restricted free agent, had dried up. The teams reported to be the biggest threat to steal Gordon from the Magic had each made signings very early in free agency that removed them from consideration.

After the Mavericks signed DeAndre Jordan to a one, year $24 million deal and the Suns signed Trevor Ariza to a one-year, $15 million deal, everything broke perfectly for the Magic and all of the leverage seemed to drop into their lap.

That could have changed slightly (and very temporarily) when rumors surfaced that the Lakers might be interested in Gordon as their Plan B to the king of all Plan A’s: LeBron James.

Gordon, like every other player in NBA history, had been hoping for a max contract that would have paid him upwards of $25 million per season. The Lakers, with only about $38 million tied up in guaranteed contracts at the time, would have been one of the few teams that could have approached something close to that that figure.

And with Paul George having already agreed to stay in Oklahoma City, and Magic Johnson saying he would quit if he couldn’t lure free agents to L.A. over the next two summers, the Lakers perhaps would have been willing to overpay for players with star potential, like Gordon.

Until...

With LeBron in place, the Lakers had to put complementary pieces around him. Making an offer to Gordon, knowing the Magic would likely match regardless, would have done nothing but temporarily tie up their spending ability.

Another suitor for Gordon, perhaps the only remaining suitor, was no longer in play.

So, less than two hours after news broke that LeBron agreed to a deal with the Lakers, it was reported that Gordon reached an agreement with the Magic...

The contract later proved to be even more team-friendly than first reported. The deal, which Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reported has no team or player options, actually had a base salary of $76 million and the possibly of an additional $1 million each season in incentives.

In the first year of his deal, Gordon will earn $21.6 million and ends at $16.4 million in 2021-2022, becoming a very moveable deal by the year, should the Magic opt to go that route.

Aaron Gordon’s year-by-year salary:

2018-2019 = $21.6 million

2019-2020 = $19.9 million

2020-2021 = $18.1 million

2021-2022 = $16.4 million

Gordon is coming off a season where he established career bests in in points per game (17.6), rebounds (7.9), assists (2.3), blocks (0.8), steals (1.0) and three-point shooting (33.6 percent).

His production - along with his flaws like overdribbling, forcing shots and failing to play within the flow of the offense - do not warrant the max contract Gordon had been hoping for. Even with an average base salary of around $19 million per year, the Magic are still paying for potential.

But they are paying a lot less than they could have been.

“Everything gets taken into consideration when you’re doing this sort of thing,” Jeff Weltman, the Magic’s president of basketball operations told the Orlando Sentinel about the Gordon signing. “The player’s intentions, the fit, and the marketplace itself has to be considered.”

“That being said, we wanted to show A.G. the respect that we thought he had earned over his four years of just playing hard, working to develop himself as a teammate, as a player for the Magic and his investment in the city. We didn’t come in low. We kind of got to the heart of the matter pretty quickly and wanted to show him that respect. I feel like we did an equitable deal for everybody.”

Maybe the Magic and Gordon were already deep into negotiations long before LeBron signed with L.A. Maybe it was Gordon’s reps who leaked the Lakers’ reported interest. Maybe there was no interest at all. The rumors, and the hypotheticals, are what make July 1 the most intriguing day of the NBA calendar.

Gordon said he never spoke to another team during the brief window that was his restricted free agency. Whether that was by choice or the result of a lack of options thanks to free-spending GMs and the decision of LeBron James, there was no team to drive up his price and force Orlando to sign a more lucrative check.

Gordon still got a respectable payday. The Magic got what could prove to be a bargain.

“I’m looking to preach a winning culture, winning habits, just all about winning, all about winning,” Gordon told reporters. “If we win, everybody gets paid. Everybody gets paid if we win, and that’s how it goes. That’s how it’s always been, and that’s what I’m looking to preach. We’ve got a bunch of talented guys on this team. If we come together, we can make something happen.