An ode to Eric Gordon

Mar 9, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) warms up before playing against the Los Angeles Lakers at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

An ode to Eric Gordon

Eric Gordon was always the headliner.

He was a top three recruit of the 2007 high school class, arguably the best of all time; the Clippers drafted him seventh overall in 2008, he was the player the Hornets wanted most when they traded Chris Paul in 2011, and teams lined up to sign him to a max offer sheet after the 2012 season, but he didn’t even earn top billing when the Rockets introduced their two free agent signings on July 9, 2016, that crown went to Ryan Anderson.

Gordon turned out to be one of the best signings the Rockets have ever made, and he completely outplayed the four-year, $53 million contract he signed for, $27 million less than Anderson.

The Rockets traded Gordon to the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday, ending a six and a half season run in which he was the one constant with James Harden in the most successful four-year stretch the team has had since its championship runs in the 90s.

He won’t go down as one of the best players in franchise history, his number will never hang from the Toyota Center rafters, but Gordon will be remembered for being the perfect complement next to Harden and the perfect role model for what the team hopes will be its next batch of young stars.

For almost seven seasons, Gordon did everything the Rockets asked of him. Need him to come off the bench? He’d come off the bench and win Sixth Man of the Year. Need him to start? He’d start. Need him to run the offense? He’ll play point guard for you. He defended anyone you needed him to guard, no matter how big or how quick, and he did it at a high level.

It’s been no secret all season, Gordon wanted to be traded. The Rockets aren’t competitive, and he wants to win, but publicly Gordon kept his mouth shut. He came in every day and did his job. He started 47-of-55 games before Thursday’s trade and played both ends of a couple of back-to-backs last month. Had Thursday’s deal not gotten done, Gordon would’ve been in the Rockets’ starting lineup on Friday in Miami. He might not have been thrilled about it, but he still would’ve done his job because that’s the type of player and person that he is.

CBS ranked Gordon as the 45th best free agent before he signed with the Rockets in 2016, when some crazy contracts were handed out after the NBA’s salary cap spiked 32% in 2016, but only Gordon and Bradley Beal hadn’t switched teams before Thursday.

Random thoughts after a busy trade deadline

•The Rockets are really going to be up against it at point guard until Kevin Porter Jr. returns, a date for which no one seems to know. Of the guys still on the roster Jae’Sean Tate is the option Stephen Silas trusts most at the position, but he’s unlikely to start games. Jalen Green will get opportunities to run the offense but expect Daishen Nix and TyTy Washington to get extended looks, and Josh Christopher may get thrown into the fire as well.

•Speaking of Christopher, there is no impediment to him getting minutes with Gordon in Los Angeles and Garrison Mathews in Atlanta. He’s been disappointing in his second NBA, but he has 27 games to show he’s improved and deserves a role with the Rockets moving forward. He’s appeared in 14 straight games and has started to show flashes reminding everyone of his impressive rookie season.

•The trade of Bruno Fernando moves Usman Garuba up a spot on the Rockets’ depth chart at center behind Alperen Sengun, and while I expect him to get plenty of minutes over the final two months of the season, I also think the Rockets may opt to play more small ball lineups. The Rockets started Jabari Smtih Jr. at center when an illness forced Sengun to miss the game in Detroit a couple of weeks ago, and Silas could look to throw out lineups with Smith, Tari Eason, and K.J. Martin on the floor together, a three-man lineup that has logged just 34 minutes this season.

• Second-round picks aren’t the most important assets in the world, but the Rockets have acquired five since the end of last season and give Tilman Fertitta credit for essentially buying three of them. The Rockets added salary in their trade with Oklahoma City in September, which netted one pick and they did the same in getting a pair in Thursday’s trade with Atlanta.

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