In theory, a player like Eric Gordon, who has been limited to just five games this season, should be seeing his free agent stock take a huge hit. After missing most of the season with a knee injury, Gordon has also been bothered by back and hip issues recently. For a player who also missed significant time in 2010/11 with a wrist injury, it seems like earning the "injury-prone" label is unavoidable, hurting his leverage in free agency.
However, Gordon is in a unique position as he approaches restricted free agency. Having been the centerpiece of the blockbuster trade that sent him to New Orleans for Chris Paul, Gordon isn't a player the Hornets can simply let walk away without a fight at season's end. The 23-year-old's leverage is strong enough that he reportedly turned down a four-year deal worth about $50MM earlier this season, while he was on the shelf with knee problems.
Gordon's free agency will be perhaps the most fascinating case to watch this offseason. He probably won't receive the most money — Deron Williams figures to receive that honor. But Gordon should draw interest from a number of teams. His hometown Pacers have long been rumored to have interest, and other teams facing possible holes at shooting guard, such as the Celtics, Cavaliers, and Trail Blazers, will have the cap room to make Gordon a big offer, if they so choose.
Gordon is a talented scorer who poured in 22.3 PPG with the Clippers a year ago and figures to only get better, as long as he stays healthy. But he's not a superstar, and his health issues are a genuine cause for concern. I don't think he deserves the sort of four-year, maximum-salary contract that Kevin Love signed with the Timberwolves.
With the league-owned Hornets determined to salvage the Paul trade though, they'd likely be willing to pay close to the max to keep Gordon in a New Orleans uniform for the next few years. The question is whether or not another team will force them to go that high. If you're the Pacers, do you offer Gordon a lucrative four-year deal that could compromise your tremendous cap flexibility? What if the Hornets decide not to match, and you end up locked into a contract in the neighborhood of $14MM annually for a pure scorer who may be an ongoing injury risk?
For Gordon, the other question is whether or not he even wants to play in New Orleans long-term. If he prefers to sign elsewhere, he could simply accept the Hornets' qualifying offer, bet on his health for next season, and then become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2013. That'd be a big risk though, since he'd giving up his current leverage with New Orleans, and another injury or two next year would raise serious red flags.
Although I expect Gordon to ultimately re-sign to a near-max deal with the Hornets, this one could go in a number of different ways. The Pacers still seem to be the most serious threat to New Orleans, but we'll see how this plays out in July.