Will the Pelicans be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline? Do they still view themselves as playoff contenders? And which of their available assets is most likely to be dealt away?
All these questions will take a back seat to Mardi Gras on Tuesday in New Orleans, but they will become important soon afterward. With the trade deadline looming on February 18th, the Pelicans have reportedly had talks about trading at least four prominent players.
Of the Pelicans’ potential trade assets, shooting guard Eric Gordon is the riskiest. The risk comes from a broken ring finger that he suffered in a January 19th game and from his looming free agency. With his recovery timetable set at four to six weeks, a team that acquires Gordon may not have him on the court until early March. And when free agency hits in July, Gordon will no doubt seek a hefty raise from the more than $15.5MM he is making now. So any team that deals for him will have to be confident he will sign for the long term.
The eighth-year shooting guard out of Indiana had a chance to enter free agency last summer but chose to exercise his option and spend another year in New Orleans. At the time, he cited the Pelicans’ talent level and an offseason coaching change that saw Monty Williams let go in favor of Alvin Gentry, who carried the promise of a faster-paced offense.
Gordon has been a productive but frequently injured player during his five seasons in New Orleans. The broken finger is the latest in a series of mishaps that have limited his availability since the Pelicans acquired him from the Clippers in the December 2011 trade that sent Chris Paul to Los Angeles. Gordon missed 136 games during his first four seasons in New Orleans, and that number continues to rise with his current injury.
The 27-year-old has been an effective scorer since he arrived in New Orleans, averaging 17.0 points and 3.7 assists per game. He is fourth on the team this season at 15.0 points a night and was eighth in the league with 98 3-pointers when he fractured his finger. Still, it’s not clear how vital he is to the Pelicans’ success. The team recently won seven of nine games with him on the sidelines to sneak back into playoff contention, and his overall numbers suggest his value isn’t as high as it seems. ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus ratings currently put Gordon 40th among the league’s shooting guards, up slightly from 43rd a year ago when he had the benefit of being part of a playoff team. Gordon fares a little better in ESPN’s Player Efficiency Rating, but he still comes in just 24th among shooting guards.
Those numbers, along with Gordon’s contract situation, make it easy to understand why New Orleans seems more inclined to move him rather than stretch forward Ryan Anderson or point guard Tyreke Evans, whom the team also reportedly explored trading. Like Gordon, Anderson is on an expiring contract, while Evans has one year left on his deal at $11.7MM. In addition, the Pelicans would probably love to find a trade partner to take center Omer Asik off their hands, but the five-year, nearly $53MM deal he signed last offseason makes that problematic.
New Orleans reportedly tried to deal Gordon in January, offering him and Alonzo Gee to the Kings in exchange for Rudy Gay. It’s not known if negotiations between those teams are continuing, but John Reid of The New Orleans Times-Picayune recently wrote that the Pelicans are still seeking a trade that would involve Gordon. No other interested teams have emerged publicly, as Gordon’s salary will necessitate a significant return. Only the Trail Blazers have enough cap room available to take on Gordon without worrying about the salary-matching rules, and Portland is already set at shooting guard with C.J. McCollum enjoying a breakout season.
It could be a buyer’s market for teams hoping to obtain perimeter scoring before the deadline, so the Pelicans may not get as much as they want in return for Gordon. The Wolves have put Kevin Martin on the market, as Chuck Myron examined last month. Also, the Nets’ Joe Johnson is expensive but presumed available, the Grizzlies are gauging interest in Courtney Lee and the Lakers are willing to listen to offers for virtually all of their veterans, including Lou Williams and Nick Young. Other possibilities from underperforming teams include the Bucks’ O.J. Mayo and the Magic’s Evan Fournier.
Gordon’s future in New Orleans will come down to how strongly the Pelicans want to move him and what they’re willing to accept in return. Any potential trading partner probably views Gordon as a risky investment and is unlikely to give the Pelicans enough to help them make another late-season push for the playoffs. However, if New Orleans has decided to focus on the future, the front office can probably find a contender that would be eager to add an instant-offense player like Gordon at a bargain price.
Do you think the Pelicans will make a deal involving Gordon before the February 18th deadline? Please share your opinion in the comments section.