|Eric Gordon is the saddest guy to get offered $58 million. (Getty Images)|
Eric Gordon came to an agreement with the Phoenix Suns this week on a max contract. As soon as that happened, his agent released a statement on his behalf, essentially begging the Hornets, who own the right to match any offer for Gordon through the terms of restricted free agency, not to match and to let him head to Phoenix because that's "where his heart is."
On Friday, after the first practice of Team USA, Gordon spoke with Hornets 247 about his comments. His comments... well...
Some choice selections (emphasis mine):
On if he felt slighted when Austin Rivers was drafted: "If you look at it, we have no center, we have hardly no bigs, you never know. I'm at a point where I went to Phoenix, I talked to their organization and next think you know they signed the players”
“My thing is, if you're trying to be a good team, and you've got a young team, you've got to fill in spaces. I am the shooting guard. We've got plenty of point guards on our team right now.”
On if Phoenix's training staff had an impact on his decision: “All that factors in. Who wouldn't want to go to a good staff? Period.”
On why the Suns are the best fit: “The type of interest that they have as an organization. That's just point-blank.”
On what made Phoenix a better fit than New Orleans: “The interest– I feel like I'm getting taken advantage of over there just because I'm restricted… if they wanted to…. you know how this CBA, this deal is, it's built for you to stay with your remaining team, but everything has been taken advantage of”.
And the kicker is this one, at the 2:24 mark of the video:
"Being restricted, you're being taken advantage of, with nothing being done."
So, there are some things to talk about here.
First, and let's be totally up front about this. Gordon at no time has indicated he will not play for the New Orleans Hornets should they elect to match the offer. He said as much in the video. "I have to play basketball." Now, that's far from a ringing endorsement or the kind of positive attitude you want to hear from a star player, but before we discuss Gordon's situation, that needs to be paramount. Gordon in no way is saying that he will not fully participate in all mandated activities.
He's jut not happy about it. And in reality, this is all a power play. The comments are meant to put pressure on the Hornets to get out of the legal burden of having to play for the Hornets. He feels like the $50 million offer the Hornets made earlier in the season was insulting (don't try and think about the idea of $50 million being insulting, we have to take it in context, as insane as that is). He feels they haven't expressed a strong inclination towardplacing him as the franchise player.
In short, Gordon doesn't feel loved. The Hornets conceivably matching a $58 million offer for his services, despite him playing just nine games last season and not being an All-Star doesn't make him feel loved.
Here's the problem.
1. This is business, and players treat it as such, and there's no love to go around. Gordon would leave in a heartbeat in a few years for more money despite the love of the fans. This is a similar situation.
2. Gordon chose this situation.
Gordon had an option to enter unrestricted free agency in 2013. Were he to have signed the $5.1 million qualifying offer, which isn't bad money, he could have played 2013 in a Hornets uniform, raised his value even more with a full year of play, then signed in Phoenix or Toronto or Istanbul if he wanted. He would have had complete control over where he played.
The response it that asking him to wait another year for unrestricted free agency means too much of a risk. Players' careers are short, just 10 years in many cases, and the money has to be made before an injury derails them. What if he blew out his knee next season and that destroyed his chances at a max contract?
Those are the breaks.
There aren't a lot of ways to find common ground between the society the rest of us live in and the world professional athletes live in. We don't have round the clock engagement for our time for media, work, sponsors, ticket-holders. We don't get paid tens of thousands of dollars for a night's work. We don't operate under the same restrictive CBA that these athletes do.
But one thing we do have in common, among a few others, is this. There are consequences to our decisions and it's our responsibility to live up to those. Gordon had a choice. Risk losing money and enter unrestricted free agency, or enter restricted free agency and surrender control over where he goes in the event the Hornets match.
He chose restricted free agency.
You can argue restricted free agency is unfair, as Gordon did, in fact, saying it takes advantage of a player (despite it allowing him to pursue whatever offer he wants on the open market and forces his team to match that dollar-for-dollar, ensuring that they lose no money in this --that's key, Gordon's not going to lose a dime he would have gotten in Phoenix). But you can't argue that he decided to go this route. He had the power to enter unrestricted free agency and he decided to forgo that option. That has a consequence. But in true modern-superstar fashion, he wants it all.
Carmelo Anthony did this. Dwight Howard is doing this. Players who are under the terms of a contract, trying to get everything they want, just how they want it. It's not just about the money. That you can understand. It's "I want to play for how much I want, where I want, when I want, in the situation I want, and I want it now." There's no give-and-take. There's no "I'll surrender my freedom to go where I want, as stipulated in the contract, in order to make sure I get the money now." There's no "I'll surrender the money to make sure I maintain the freedom."
I've got no argument with players disliking restricted free agency. The NBPA should fight hard to eliminate it in the next CBA. I say that as someone fiercely defensive of small markets and efforts to maintain parity. The players should still be able to escape what they feel are bad situations when their contracts expire. But Gordon had that chance, and chose not to exercise it. And when you do that, you have to deal with the consequences, in this case, having to play in New Orleans when they match (as they have repeatedly indicated they will).
Beyond that issue, consider what this is about. Gordon essentially is upset the Hornets maneuvered to get the best value possible. They didn't go out and fire off a max offer right off the bat, because they knew the injury issues and Gordon's own standard as a non-elite player could dictate that he wouldn't get a max offer. If they have the ability to get Gordon back for a cheaper price, shouldn't they pursue that, just as Gordon should pursue the opportunity to get a max offer?
This is about being coddled. It's about being loved. Gordon's essentially upset the Hornets did not pamper him and woo him like so many superstars are wooed. This should not have surprised Gordon. Hornets GM Dell Demps comes from the Spurs' tree. You don't see the Spurs doing this, even with Tim Duncan, who is the lifeblood of their franchise. They treat players professionally, not like princes. They're a firm, not a family.
So Gordon is pouting and trying to force the Hornets to think he's so unhappy that it's not worth matching. Maybe he really does feel that way. Maybe it's just a power play by his agent. If Gordon were an unrestricted free agent, how the Hornets have treated him could matter, and he could reject their offers, even if it meant more money.
But he's not. He chose to enter restricted free agency, and now there are consequences to those actions.
Players give a lot for the money they make. They really do. It's constant work on conditioning. It's constant work through injury. It's media appearances, and criticism (like this), and not having much free time, and unbelievable pressure. For those elements, they're at least paid at an unbelievable rate, even if it can be argued their value to franchises far outweighs what they're paid. But this modern trend of wanting their cake and to eat it, too, needs to be curbed.
The Hornets should match, show Eric Gordon that it doesn't really matter what bigs they have when they have Anthony Davis, and build toward a future.
The Suns may have coddled Gordon. The Hornets knew all along they didn't have to.
Gordon is the saddest man to ever get a $58 million offer guaranteed. He says it's not about the money. But this isn't about coddling. It's about business. And in four years, if he's the player that many including myself believe him to be, he can go wherever he wants and make a lot more.
But until then, there's coddling, and there are consequences.