This morning, The Athletic’s Shams Charania, with insight from Jared Weiss, reported that the Celtics have engaged in conversations with the Orlando Magic that focus primarily on Aaron Gordon.
Six minutes later, The Athletic’s Jared Weiss and Sam Amick reported that Gordon officially requested a trade from Orlando... back in February. And that the Celtics have been working hard to get him to Boston before Thursday’s trade deadline.
Sources say the Celtics, whose significant struggles this season appear to have increased the pressure to add another impactful player in time for the playoff push, have been among the teams engaged with the Magic about a possible Gordon deal. Gordon, who is one of the most sought after players at the deadline, has also been at the center of talks with Houston, Minnesota, Denver and Portland, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
Apparently, the Magic have been listening to offers for Gordon going back to last season — which feels like something we already knew, though it’s a nice change of pace to have it reported explicitly — and that they’ve maintained an asking price of “multiple first-round picks or a pick with a good young player.” The Celtics currently have both: one first-round pick in each of the next fill-in-the-blank drafts, as well as a plethora of conditional second-round picks, all depending on where Boston’s trade partner is positioned in the applicable draft.
Per Weiss and Amick, “Orlando came close to completing deals with Gordon in the past, with a trade at last season’s deadline sending him to Phoenix for Kelly Oubre and a draft pick falling just short and a pre-draft trade sending Gordon to Portland for the multi-pick package that landed the Blazers Robert Covington reaching the finish line before Orlando backed out, per league sources. Gordon has been aware of the team’s past trade discussions, according to league and player sources.”
He’s not the only member of the Magic that Boston has thought about. Weiss and Amick continued to stoke the fire that the Celtics, like much of the league, have interest in both Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier. But a deal for Gordon does seem to be the best fit for Boston, both in the short and long-term. To get Vucevic, a team would apparently have to offer a “Jrue Holiday-level trade package... but he is considered unavailable by rival executives and appears very likely to stay that way.” Boston might have the assets for a Holiday-like deal, but they certainly aren’t in dire need of a pricey center. They have three relatively cheap ones; to nab Vucevic would be unnecessary, albeit flashy.
So, why is Boston the team leading the charge in these Gordon talks? Per Weiss and Amick, “the Celtics may have an edge in the market because they can acquire Gordon without needing him to commit to a contract extension. Many teams, particularly rebuilding franchises, would want him to commit to an extension, but he only qualifies for a four-year, $88.2 million deal this offseason. If he plays well at his next stop, he could fetch much more than that average of $22.5 million annually when his deal expires next summer.”
However, “the problem for Boston is that adding Gordon’s salary to their current guaranteed deals for next season would put their tax bill slightly north of $25 million. With Gordon, Marcus Smart, and Robert Williams all approaching free agency if they are all still on the roster, ownership would either have to commit to a nine-figure tax bill or start making some tough decisions.” Danny Ainge isn’t exactly the most decisive GM with a job.
Per Spotrac, Gordon signed a four-year, $80 million deal prior to the 2018-19 season, giving him a base salary of $18.1 million, the same as his cap hit. It’s likely that a chunk of Boston’s record-breaking trade exception (worth $28.5 million) would go towards paying for Gordon before he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2022.
It’s a similar story with someone like Evan Fournier, who is currently on an expiring contract worth $17.1 million, and if he performs reasonably well at his next stop, will likely find himself a rich man this offseason. The impending free-agent class is hardly one to write home about; Fournier is bound to nab a few offers from teams with money to spend, even if they have little room to grow. The Celtics want no part of that. At least they shouldn’t.
On the basketball side of things, Gordon fills a hole that, in hindsight, the Celtics served as detrimental to the Celtics upon its creation. Amick and Weiss put it like this:
Gordon addresses the Celtics’ most present priority of filling the hole left by Gordon Hayward’s departure with a dynamic wing approaching his prime and acquires a player with another year left of declining salary on his deal. Gordon both satisfies the desire to get a high-level complementary piece on the same timeline of its core while limiting the luxury tax pain next season. Depending on whether the Celtics make an additional trade and jump into the luxury tax this season — they currently have approximately $13.51 million of room below the tax, per league sources — they would not face the repeater tax until the ‘22-‘23 season at the earliest.
For now, we know two things for sure: Aaron Gordon wants out, and on deals, Boston wants in. The details are important, but nowhere near final nor calamitous for a team dying to win now.
Grind the beans. Put the coffee on. It’s gonna be a long week.