When the NBA mandated that the New Orleans Hornets would only take the best possible league-rigged offer in a trade for Chris Paul, it decided that the Hornets required a young, budding star who could help take the franchise into the post-CP3 world. Given the available options, that player turned out to be shooting guard Eric Gordon, a terrific scorer who also happened to be a season away from becoming a restricted free agent. If the Hornets could convince him to stay, they'd look a lot better on paper moving forward.
The Hornets gave that offer to Gordon -- with league approval, of course -- and awaited his response. On Wednesday, before the league's deadline for extensions, he gave it. According to Yahoo!'s own Marc Spears, he has chosen to hit free agency this offseason:
Gordon had told Yahoo! Sports on Monday that he was waiting to learn whether NBA commissioner David Stern would grant him an extension. Gordon said he was informed by Hornets general manager Dell Demps that it was up to Stern — who acts as the Hornets' caretaker while the league owns the franchise — to decide whether to extend an offer.
The league approved a four-year offer to Gordon, sources said, but it wasn't enough to sway Gordon to sign.
This decision makes a fair amount of sense for Gordon. If the Hornets weren't yet offering a max deal, he can test the market this summer, likely get an offer similar to this one at the very least, and in the worst case re-up with the Hornets for the same money. In the best case, some team -- likely his hometown Indiana Pacers -- offers him a max-level contract. If the Hornets bring him back, then so be it.
Yet, even though they were turned down this week, it's not all bad news. That's the case for the obvious reason -- they still have the power to match any offer this summer -- but also because losing Gordon might not be such a bad outcome. Any free-agent decision, particularly under the new salary cap restrictions, comes down to whether or not a player is worth what he's been offered. Gordon is a very good player, but it's not yet clear if he's cut out to be a team's primary option; on top of that, he gets injured quite a bit for such a young player. As has been proven many times over the last decade, there are few worse things for a rebuilding franchise than giving a non-superstar player money that should be reserved for a superstar-quality player. Gordon might be worth that kind of money, but any deal that gives it to him will be based on perceived (or maybe just hopeful) potential instead of tangible results.
It might sound counter-intuitive to say that a rebuilding team with a dearth of talent shouldn't be terribly worried about losing its best player, but the NBA's draft structure actually helps the worst teams in the league. It often only takes one superstar talent to turn things around. Gordon might make the Hornets better, but it's much better for the Hornets' future to be one of three worst teams in the league than among the bottom seven or eight. Given the cheapness of rookie contracts, it's in their financial interest, too.
No matter what, the Hornets are going to be pretty bad over the next few seasons. If they embrace the cellar, they might turn things around faster than they would otherwise. The NBA incentives failure much more than mediocrity. Sometimes, the best way to rise to the top is by hitting rock bottom.
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