Aaron Gordon has spent the entirety of his seven-year career with the Orlando Magic. In his rookie season, they fired coach Jacque Vaughn after a 15-37 start. After they went 35-47 in Gordon's second season, coach Scott Skiles abruptly quit. When Gordon re-signed as a restricted free agent in the summer of 2018, they were coming off a 25-win season under Frank Vogel, and the franchise appeared to be adrift. He agreed to an unconventional contract: four years, $80 million including incentives, with a declining salary -- he made $21.6 million in Year 1 and will make $16.4 million next season. Immediately, this made him a potential trade piece.
The Magic have been much more competent in the Steve Clifford era, but trade rumors persist every season. This year, they have a whole section of their own in my trade deadline primer. They're 13-26, the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference, with the second-worst net rating (minus-7.1) in the league. Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz, are out for the season, rehabilitating after their respective ACL tears. If Orlando is ever going to bottom out and try to nab a franchise-changing player in the draft, the time is now. On Monday, 10 days before the March 25 trade deadline, two outlets reported that Gordon could finally be on the move.
At The Athletic, Shams Charania reported that the Magic are taking calls about Gordon and the Minnesota Timberwolves and Portland Trail Blazers are among his suitors. At Bleacher Report, Jake Fischer reported that Gordon is available, would like a fresh start and has already nearly been traded twice this season: to Minnesota and to the Brooklyn Nets.
The Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks are interested in Gordon, per Bleacher Report, and the New Orleans Pelicans could be in the mix, too. Orlando reportedly wants a combination of draft picks and young players, and it reportedly turned down an offer that included either Spencer Dinwiddie or Caris LeVert in January because the Nets couldn't put the kind of pick it wanted in the deal. In early February, right around the time Gordon sprained his ankle, an injury that sidelined him for six weeks, the Magic reportedly came close to sending him to the Wolves for Ricky Rubio and draft compensation.
Houston reportedly wanted to land Gordon in the James Harden deal, but wound up with Victor Oladipo, the ex-Orlando guard drafted one year earlier and two spots higher than Gordon, instead. A source told Fischer that the Rockets are still in hot pursuit, and would like to use Oladipo's expiring contract to acquire him. In theory, their similar salaries ($18.1 million for Gordon, $21 million for Oladipo) could be swapped, but the Magic would surely need to be incentivized.
Gordon is still just 25 years old, and while he hasn't developed into the star wing he set out to be a half-decade ago, this season he spent some time running Orlando's offense when the roster was short on healthy point guards. He's also one of the few players in the NBA genuinely capable of guarding every position, and he's evolved into a real stopper when he's at his best. Gordon was on a minutes restriction when he returned to the lineup last week, but the Magic still put him on Jimmy Butler. He has missed their two games since.
For someone who has logged more than 12,000 NBA minutes, there is an unusual amount of curiosity about where Gordon's offensive game might go. He has never played on a team that finished better than 22nd in offensive rating, and, in his two playoff seasons, the Magic ranked 24th and 26th, respectively, in pace. He would presumably be more efficient with better spacing and playmaking around him in Dallas, and he'd likely get a fair amount of easy baskets in transition in Houston. A more interesting question is how he'd adjust to playing in a motion-oriented, read-and-react offense in Denver or Golden State.
The Nuggets are a particularly interesting destination because we'd see a popular thought experiment become reality: What if Gordon were asked to be the league's best role player? In Denver, where the system revolves around the unique talents of a singular point-center, where the team can go to endless variations of the Nikola Jokic-Jamal Murray two-man game, where Michael Porter Jr. can get a shot anytime he wants, where Will Barton -- a natural playmaker -- has an 18.5 percent usage rate, Gordon would not need to create much of anything. If he learned the rhythms of the Nuggets' offense, though, he could be a devastating finisher and elevate a team that made the Western Conference finals mere months ago.
Jerami Grant, a versatile forward picked 35 spots after Gordon in the 2014 draft, left Denver after that conference finals appearance, in part because he sought more offensive responsibility. Grant has found that with the Detroit Pistons, the only team in the East with a worse record than Orlando. Gordon, meanwhile, has a 23.2 usage rate this season, and it's unclear how he'd take to a role like the one Grant played with the Nuggets. On his next team, he is more likely to play some smallball 5 than to see any time at the small forward position he still occasionally occupies. There are benefits to embracing this, chief among them enjoying the sort of team success that Gordon has never experienced, but he will be in a contract year next season. Sacrifice isn't always rewarded financially.
Grant, however, had never had a chance to play a featured role in the NBA, and Detroit made a bet on his upside. Gordon has upside, too, but it rests on him making the most of his skills on a team with real firepower. Assuming that the Washington Wizards hold firm on Bradley Beal and that the Toronto Raptors hang onto Kyle Lowry, it's likely that the Harden trade will be this season's only blockbuster. Short of adding an All-Star at the deadline, the best teams can hope is to acquire a core player, someone who complements its stars, fills a need and is more than a rental. Gordon checks every box.