Report: Rockets telling Eric Gordon that they want him to stay put

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At first glance, some might wonder if the factors prompting a breakup between John Wall and the rebuilding Rockets could also apply to Eric Gordon. Both are accomplished veteran guards in their 30s with two seasons left on their current contract, and neither is likely to still be in his prime when Houston is next ready to contend for an NBA title.

In these situations, there’s often an incentive for a rebuilding team to give more on-court minutes and touches to younger players, while a veteran may place an emphasis on immediate contention. After all, players in these spots don’t know how much time they have left in peak form.

But at least from Houston’s perspective, the situation with Gordon is different than the one with Wall. They do like Wall as a leader and mentor off the court, but on it, there’s understandable concern that his need to have the ball in his hands as the team’s floor general could stunt the development of Kevin Porter Jr., who views himself as a point guard.

By contrast, Gordon’s formula for success isn’t as dependent on constantly having the basketball in his hands. For example, there’s value in Gordon’s ability and willingness to shoot well beyond the 3-point arc, because it can space the floor and open up driving lanes for young prospects like Porter Jr. and prized rookie Jalen Green. The former Sixth Man of the Year Award winner is also a tough and versatile defender, and he’s well regarded for his practice habits and communication.

All of those are reasons why it could make sense to keep Gordon around, and according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic, that’s what the team has recently informed Gordon that it would like to do. Iko writes:

Sources with knowledge of Gordon’s thinking say while Gordon hasn’t approached management to ask for a trade, he’s open to moving to a more favorable situation. In meetings between his representation and Houston this offseason, the Rockets communicated they would love to have Gordon stay.

“They always know, and it’s definitely not easy for my position,” Gordon says about Houston understanding how he feels. “But my ultimate goal is to just go out there and play, help, show that I’m healthy and gravitate to these guys to get better.”

But Gordon is a consummate professional. He’s going to put his head down, prepare for the season and do the role that’s asked of him. He was part of the group that took a pre-camp trip down to the Bahamas (Wall was not present, according to sources).

Gordon is by far the longest-tenured Houston player on the current roster, having played with the Rockets since signing as a free agent in July 2016. As one of the lone links to the perennial title contending teams of the James Harden era, he’s also a familiar face to fans as the franchise embarks upon a rare rebuild that could last a few years.

Gordon averaged 17.8 points in 29.2 minutes per game with the Rockets last year, and after undergoing knee surgery in the previous season, he showed renewed explosiveness as a driver — as evidenced by his career-high shooting percentage of 57.3% from inside the 3-point arc. Unfortunately, Gordon’s 2020-21 campaign ended prematurely due to an unrelated injury (right groin strain) in March.

It’s worth noting, of course, that Houston’s desire to keep Gordon around is only part of the equation. Should Gordon eventually decide he wants out, it’s likely that general manager Rafael Stone would work with him out of respect to move him to a desired destination, just as he did last season with Harden and PJ Tucker. Unlike Wall, Gordon’s contract is quite reasonable to other teams at an annual average of approximately $19 million over the next two seasons, and the fact that he’s already “open to moving” suggests that the situation might escalate down the line.

But at least for now, the 32-year-old appears content in his new role as the elder statesman for a young and developing squad in Houston. Most importantly, his actions match the rhetoric, as evidenced by Gordon accompanying the highly touted prospects on their recent Bahamas trip for team bonding and offseason workouts.

There’s no guarantee as to how long this arrangement will last. But heading into the 2021-22 season, it’s clear that both Gordon and the Rockets are committed to making a legitimate effort.

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