In my opinion, Saints/Hornets Executive General Manager Mickey Loomis is one of the best (if not the best) capologists in NFL history.
No one knows the salary cap system better than Loomis and no one makes deals work in that system better than Loomis.
The Saints are never handcuffed salary-wise and the team never has to make questionable decisions based on salary.
That’s why I’m so perplexed as to why someone like Loomis would sign off on the Hornets 4-year, 58 million dollar deal to Eric Gordon.
Loomis is an NBA novice but he’s a smart enough executive to know the risk of such a questionable contract — especially in the NBA — where unlike the NFL, all of the money is fully guaranteed to the player.
As I write this column, the Gordon deal is one that could hurt the Hornets organization for years to come.
Since last spring I’ve written countless blogs about Eric Gordon.
Like most, I started out as a champion of the dynamic 23 yard old — but my tune quickly changed.
My reason for jumping off the EG10 band wagon before anyone else was two-fold.
First, once Gordon made unsavory comments regarding the New Orleans Hornets organization during free agency it became crystal clear that he did not want to help this organization move forward in it’s rebuilding effort.
(Side bar: I lobbied non-stop for the Hornets to work with Gordon and his agent (Rob Pelinka) on a sign-and-trade — but the Hornets stood firm on their belief that Gordon was the future of the franchise.)
Second, Gordon’s injury issues were a major red-flag for me.
Unfortunately for the Hornets, both concerns regarding Gordon have come to fruition.
The franchise announced Wednesday night that Gordon will spend the next 4-6 weeks in Los Angeles rehabbing his sore knee. Why LA? No One knows, but instead of forcing the player you’re paying $14.8 million annually to stay in New Orleans, rehab with the team and stay connected — the Hornets have cowered to Gordon once again.
Gordon missed all but 9 games last year due to minor knee issues. Gordon has missed all of training camp, preseason and the first 4 games of the regular season due to knee soreness.
My prediction is that Gordon returns to the court sometime in December — plays a few games — then once again experiences knee soreness. At that point, Gordon will decide to try microfracture surgery to alleviate the constant pain he feels. If Gordon goes this route he won’t play again until the end of the 2014 season — if ever again.
Of course, that’s a doomsday scenario — but it’s realistic.
So, what kind of situation are the Hornets in now that they’ve seemingly purchased damaged good?
First off, a trade is out of the question. Gordon can be traded to any NBA team (except Phoenix) on January 15th — but no one will trade for Gordon.
In today’s NBA — with stiffer luxury-tax penalties and franchises leery of taking on a bad deal — their is no market for Gordon. An oft-injured SG with bad knees who’ll never play up to his contract — IMMOVABLE!
I can’t even find a team with enough bad, expiring contracts to make a trade work.
For better or worse, The Hornets are stuck with EG10.
The good news is — looking at the numbers, Gordon’s absurd contract is not as horrible as you’d imagine
Because of shrewd moves by Loomis and GM Dell Demps the Hornets have only $34 million committed to salaries next season.
Gordon’s extension also expires the same time Anthony Davis is due for a contract extension — so EG10’s contract will not keep the team from offering Davis a max-deal.
The problems with Gordon’s deal are as follows:
Player Development: The Hornets envisioned a backcourt of Austin Rivers and Eric Gordon. If Gordon can’t be counted on does the team develop Rivers as a shooting guard? Does the team try to sign a free agent point guard? If the Hornets have a top-5 draft pick do they select a talented SG like Shabazz Muhammad from UCLA? Picking Muhammad seems foolish if Gordon is healthy but smart if he’s not. The uncertain Gordon situation throws the entire rebuilding effort off course.
Free Agency: The Hornets have money to spend but they have to be careful. They can’t over-extend themselves in the summer of 2013 or 2014 because they have to make sure they have enough money for Davis (and possibly Rivers). Not being able to add the right pieces to help Anthony Davis could cost the team in the long run. Not being able to add pieces around Chris Paul is what soured CP3 on NOLA. Also, had the Hornets showed restraint and held onto their money — they could have better assessed what type of player Anthony Davis is and used money to build around his strengths in 2013 and 2014.
Team Morale: Demps & head coach Monty Williams said over and over last summer that Gordon is the player they’d build around — that Gordon would embrace a leadership role and help develop young stars Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers. If Gordon is teaching them how to dress like an NBA millionaire — they’re in luck — EG10 is a sharp dresser — but he ain’t teaching them anything else. Have the young stars seen EG10 grind? Nope! Have they seen him emerge as a leader on the court? Nope! Do they see him on the bench at games supporting them and the coaching staff while the franchise rebuilds? Nope! All the young players see is a soft-as-cotton player who seems completely disconnected.
Fans: I’ve always believed that max-contract players have to do three things: 1. Be the best player on the roster. 2. Play every night (or in 90% of the games). 3. Put butts in seats! Gordon does none of the three. On Wednesday night the Hornets set a franchise record for fewest points scored in a regular season game. Having Gordon on the court would keep things like that from happening. That said, fans in New Orleans already look at the Hornets as the second-tier team. The Hornets need positive news, strong leadership and competitive play to remain relevant. The Gordon deal prevents any of those things from happening until Anthony Davis possibly emerges as a legitimate force in his 2nd or 3rd season.
The sad part about the Eric Gordon deal is that the Hornets could have taken a different path. With new owner Tom Benson and #1 pick Anthony Davis the Hornets didn’t have to handle their business the typical NBA way — they could have been a visionary franchise like San Antonio or Oklahoma City — they could have charted a new path — unfortunately the Hornets committed the worst small market sin — they gave a mediocre player a bad contract. For small market teams to win in the NBA they’ve got to have good players on good contracts.
Look, in closing, I truly hope I’m wrong — I hope the Hornets patience and support of Gordon pays off and he emerges as an all-star and team leader. But until that happens — the Hornets brain trust deserves to be on the hottest of hot seats and team owner Tom Benson should be fuming for listening to the men who told him to pay a guy 14.8 million annually. Benson should be even more upset that Gordon is chilling out in in LA — far from the La where he should be.