We are less than a week away from the 2022 NBA trade deadline and no significant moves have been made yet. This isn’t because every team is perfectly content with their situation, nor is it because of a shortage of sellers. More likely, it has to do with a league-wide freeze because of teams monitoring the Ben Simmons situation in Philadelphia and a general hesitancy about moving first-round picks. This is a trend that dates back a few years, but it continues today.
It almost seems like the old stable of general managers that once ruled the league undervalued these picks and the new stable overvalues them a bit. While it’s true that many teams have moved multiple first-round picks in star player trades in recent years, this typically has not extended to role players. A quick look at last year’s trade deadline reveals that only three players were moved in deals that netted the incumbent team first-round picks: Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, and P.J. Tucker. The going rate for good role players seemed to be two second-round picks as opposed to the usual lottery-protected first-round pick.
The Houston Rockets are a team that may be impacted by this trend at the upcoming deadline with swingman Eric Gordon. In past years, it would have been a no-brainer for a playoff team to throw an unprotected first-round pick and some dead money at Houston for Gordon. This year, the Rockets have essentially threatened to escape the deadline with the veteran guard still on the roster if they aren’t blown away by an offer. One could safely assume they are getting lowballed right now.
But let’s assume the market is behaving normal (which it could revert back to by the deadline). What is Gordon’s fair-market value right now?
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Trade value of Rockets’ Eric Gordon
Teams trading for Eric Gordon are likely most attracted by what he can bring in the playoffs every year. In the playoffs, Gordon is averaging 16.0 points per game on 55.2% true shooting. He’s a capable ball handler who’s incredibly adept at getting to the basket and finishing at a very good clip. He’s also one of the best floor spacers in the NBA, shooting 36.0% from 3-point range for his career in the playoffs and on high volume. Gordon’s ability to hit deep triples has defenders hugging him well beyond the 3-point line, creating a pocket of space for star players to drive to the basket.
And that’s just his scoring.
Defensively, Gordon was often placed on the opposing team’s best guard and was a key reason the Rockets were able to effectively disrupt the Golden State Warriors with their switching scheme. He’s smart, can move his feet well laterally, and is very strong, which enables him to defend bigger players in a pinch. Gordon was in the top quarter of playoff performers in Defensive Win Shares every single year he was in Houston. Quite literally, he’s one of the most valuable non-star players you can have in the playoffs on the market right now.
It’s hard to envision a scenario where he’s not closing games for a playoff team in March. This means a team trading for Gordon at the deadline would be receiving a starting-caliber player for two potential playoff appearances.
Age and injury history
This is where Eric Gordon’s value gets most docked and why a team might be hesitant giving up a lot for him at the deadline. It has never been one particular injury, but Gordon has had trouble staying on the court for pretty much the entirety of his career. He also just turned 33 years old. While it looks like he still has a lot left in the tank, it’s a factor that teams could rightly hold against the Rockets in negotiations. In practical terms, this could rule Houston out of a pick in the distant future from a team (where it could be a lottery pick) as opposed to the immediate future where it’s clearly a mid-to-late first-rounder.
Unless the team that trades for him wins a championship, Eric Gordon effectively has two years and $37.8 million remaining on his contract. That’s a significant chunk of salary, but Gordon at full health provides a significant chunk of playoff value. He’s probably worth exactly what he’s getting right now, but not a penny more. Meaning it’s a fair value contract, but teams don’t view fair value contracts as a plus. They’re more likely to try and pursue players with 75% of Gordon’s value and 50% of his contract, especially if they have the luxury tax weighing over them (like the Phoenix Suns).
In summation, the contract doesn’t make Gordon a negative asset, but it doesn’t add to his value either.
So, what does a fair offer for Eric Gordon look like?
For starters, Houston is more likely to receive a contract with negative or dead value versus something that can be moved again. Cleveland’s Ricky Rubio is a good example to look at. Rubio is out for the season with an ACL injury, so Houston wouldn’t be able to flip him again to another team, and the only way they’d be able to keep him is through re-signing him with Bird rights.
As for the pick, the Rockets obviously aren’t going to get a lottery pick for Gordon. Playoff teams are more likely to trade their 2022 pick, which will be somewhere in the mid-to-late first round. They could try asking for a pick in future seasons (such as 2024 or 2026), but teams will fight tooth and nail to add protections on those picks. Since it’s more likely that a home-court advantage team trades for Gordon versus a team that’s bound to be in the play-in tournament, a contract like Rubio and the 22nd pick in the 2022 NBA Draft is a median outcome for Houston at the deadline (if the market isn’t stingy).
At that price, Houston should jump quickly on moving Gordon, even if there are reservations about picking more players in 2022. As to whether or not they’ll actually get and accept that haul? It’s to be determined. The logic screams that it’s an inevitability and the reporting makes it seem unlikely. I’d ballpark the odds at 60% in favor of the logic. It’s hard to imagine Houston receiving more in the summer for Gordon if the team trading for him is getting one less playoff appearance.