Believe it or not, there was a time not so long ago in which Ben Gordon was viewed as a legit NBA asset. In fact, we can pin-point the time exactly: July of 2009. That was when Joe Dumars and the Pistons signed “Air” Gordon to his now infamous five year, $58 million contract. Ben had just turned 26 that summer and was on the heels of an amazing five year run with the Bulls in which he:
- Made All-Rookie first team AND won Sixth Man of the Year back in ’04-’05 – an astounding achievement in retrospect.
- Averaged nearly 19ppg on 43FG% and an incredible 41% from downtown over five seasons (including an amazing 2009 Playoffs in which he averaged over 24ppg off the bench).
- Was so good from downtown that he broke Scottie Pippin’s team record for three pointers made in just four and half seasons.
- Was highly durable – unlike another over-paid undersized SG surnamed “Gordon” – only missing twelve games in his five years with the team.
So what the heck happened to that guy?
In exchange for his big payday, Gordon traded solid Chicago teammates like Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Andres Nocioni and (eventually) Derrick Rose for Charlie Villanuova, Rodney Stuckey, Tayshaun Prince and a disinterested Rip Hamilton. He downgraded from Scott Skiles/Vinny Del Negro to John Kuester, a first time head coach – and as Mike Dunlap can attest, Ben doesn’t necessarily play well with rookie HCs. In short, Gordon swapped culture for cash. And we know how well that worked out.
Ben’s three years in Detroit were the franchise’s worst stretch in decades, largely due to Dumars’ crazy post-Championship roster rebuild. There were no leaders on those Pistons teams, just a bunch of moderately skilled guys who were sick of losing and unable to do anything anything about it. As a high profile free agent signing, Gordon was miscast as a go-to guy on a go-nowhere team. His minutes dropped, he got hurt (28 missed games in just three seasons) and the one thing he was special at, ridiculous scoring, went away. Detroit was paying Ben over $10 million a year to average twelve points per game. Dumars finally folded on the experiment last summer, bribing Charlotte with a potential Lottery pick just to take Gordon off their hands.
So that brings us to the ’13-’14 season, the final year of Dumars’ Folly. Ben’s $13.2m salary will disappear from the books regardless of how things play out, so the question is: How Will It Play Out?
SCENARIO ONE: Goodbye and Good luck.
This, unfortunately, is the most likely scenario. Gordon makes trouble for yet another first year coach (Steve Clifford), gets relegated to the doghouse for most of the season – only to occasionally show up with a big (yet meaningless) game. The paperwork renouncing Ben’s rights arrives at the league office on a balmy early July morning and Rich Cho & Rod Higgins use the space to make a run at another big-name free agent.
Ben latches on with a random team for the veteran’s minimum and is out of the league a year or two later.
SCENARIO TWO: Trade Bait.
There are precisely two types of trades Gordon could be involved in this season and they are:
- Type 1: The Playoff Rental. A contending team is in serious need of bench scoring or suffers from spacing issues in general and is willing to gamble on Ben finding his stroke for 3-4 months.
- Type 2: A High Profile Trade. Charlotte makes a move for a highly paid, high profile player using their stash of picks and prospects in conjunction with Gordon’s expiring contract to make it happen.
I went through every team in the league and could only think of three legitimate trade scenarios that could happen this year – two Type 1s and a single Type 2.
Fake Ben Gordon Trade Type 1a:
Charlotte sends Gordon and Brendan Haywood to Chicago for Carlos Boozer and the return of their own first round pick.
We’ve kicked this one around at the Baseline before and if it’s ever going to happen, it’ll happen at this year’s deadline. Chicago is a big-time contender and will certainly improve offensively with MVP Derrick Rose back in the fold. But the Bulls’ second unit is relying dangerously upon the scoring prowess of Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Hinrich to keep them in games and Gordon once dominated in this very role. Meanwhile, Boozer gives the Bobcats a one and a half year rental of a solid, two-way starting PF – allowing the team to bring Cody Zeller along at a measured pace.
It’s a tough trade for both teams as Boozer’s $16.8m salary next season essentially removes Charlotte from the free agency game. But if they truly value draft picks above all else, the deal assures the front office of never having to part ways with a first rounder. Also the trade has a nice karmic rebalancing quality: Gordon reminds Chi-city of the Nate Robinson before there was “Nate Robinson”, Boozer returns to his Carolina collegiate roots and the first round pick coming back officially nulls & voids the Tyrus Thomas trade.
Fake Ben Gordon Trade Type 1b:
Charlotte trades Gordon and Brendan Haywood to Washington for Emeka Okafor.
Speaking of karmic rebalancing, this trades ships Haywood and Okafor back to their old stomping grounds and involves two UCONN Huskies that went back to back in the ’04 Draft (Emeka went 2nd, Ben went 3rd). From a hoops perspective, Gordon allows Washington to spread the floor with shooters when Bradley Beal is on the bench (or in street clothes) while Okafor gives Charlotte a reliable backup center for a few months – but most importantly serves as a neat bookend for the “Bobcats” era – from Okafor in ’04 to No-kafor in ’14.
Fake Ben Gordon Trade Type 2:
Charlotte trades Gordon, Jeffery Taylor and Cody Zeller to OKC for Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha (expiring).
Let’s say the Thunder continue their trend of long term cap-flexibility over short-term gain. Let’s say that Jeremy Lamb doesn’t blossom into a bench scorer this season. Let’s say that the team looks at their roster and realizes that they need more offense from their bigs in order to take the next step.
Taylor gives OKC Thabo level production at a fraction of the cost over the next few seasons. Zeller/Stephen Adams becomes the Thunder’s frontcourt of the future, with Nick Collison/Kendrick Perkins stewarding the present. Next July, OKC could finally amnesty Perkins’ salary and, combined with Gordon’s expiring, would free up double digit millions in cap space for the Thunder for the first time in a long while.
The Bobcats in turn get perhaps the PERFECT frontcourt partner for Al Jefferson. A rim-protecting, floor stretching PF who can make up for all of Big Al’s shortcomings on defense and punish Jefferson double teams at the other end on the perimeter. The new Charlotte Hornets suddenly morph into “MEMPHIS EAST” with Al as Zach Randolph, Kemba as Mike Conley, MKG as Tony Allen with upside, Ibaka as Gasol and Henderson as a better Tayshaun. How far does a core like this take you? A hell of a lot farther than the Bobcats have ever been before.
SCENARIO THREE: Hey, I Remember That Guy!
In this scenario, Ben uses the motivation of the contract year and the respect of his new coach to regain the old mojo. Gordon flashes back to the 19ppg bench scorer of old, keeping the Bobcats in the Playoff hunt all season and staying in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year. Charlotte even thinks about bringing him back on a more reasonable deal. Impossible you say? Before you scoff, remember that Ben Gordon has a made a career of humbling people…