Today, the Orlando Magic signed Ben Gordon to a two year (second year team option) contract worth 9 million dollars. This was surprising, because Ben Gordon was apocalyptically terrible last year…
..and got waived after nineteen games. I hadn’t even thought about Gordon getting signed this early in the free agency period. If you had, for some reason, maybe you're Ben Gordon's agent and you value my horrible opinion, asked me about what was going to happen to Ben Gordon, I would have said that he would probably was going to sign a veteran’s minimum-y contract close to the season, maybe guaranteed, maybe not and spend one year trying to rebuild his value, maybe on a playoff team (The Pacers, for instance, could have used a version of him that was shooting well.).
Instead, the rebuilding Magic signed him to a pretty lucrative deal. Why?
1. The Magic were flirting with the salary floor and Gordon got them over it.
2. When Gordon was traded to Charlotte, they were the worst team in the NBA, and he didn’t do a lot to hide his despondency. He fought with his he was pretty out of shape (For a professional basketball player, I’m not here to fat shame anyone) and it contributed to his poor play on the court. One assumes that the Magic worked him out and thought he was ready to go.
3. But even an ideal 31-Year Old Ben Gordon isn’t going to move the needle for the moribund Magic in any significant way. But an ideal 31-Year old Ben Gordon could be useful on a playoff contending team. I think the Magic have acquired Godron as a rehab project to offload for rebuilding assets.
This is a pretty common practice in baseball, which is a little more “Asset acquisition” driven than the NBA. A team that almost certainly isn’t going to make the playoffs like the 2014 Chicago Cubs, sign a player coming off a rough year like Jason Hammel, in hopes he has a bounceback or breakout. Then when that player establishes himself as a quality player laboring on a terrible team he gets shopped to contenders at the deadline in exchange for prospects. This is an especially common practice with pitchers because their year-to-year performance can vary wildly. Pitchers’ arms get injured a lot or get tanked by forces outside of their control like horrible defenses and bad BABIP luck.
NBA players don’t usually have that kind of wild variation in their year-to-year performance. But, Gordon's performance last year was so abnormally bad that it’s hard to imagine that he couldn’t recover a little. If Gordon can rebuild his value on the Magic, a good player playing for not a lot of money on a contract that is very team friendly would be hyper-tradable for a young player or a pick or both. And if he can’t, if he’s washed or he subcumbs to injury, a one-year contract never broke an NBA franchise.