Would an Aaron Gordon addition move the needle for the 2020-21 Boston Celtics?
Multiple reports pegged the Celtics as frontrunners to land Gordon before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline. Reports also suggested a Gordon addition could blossom into a bigger deal with the Magic but, for the purposes of this exercise, we’re honing in on Gordon and his potential fit in green.
Gordon checks a lot of the boxes for what Danny Ainge is seeking. He’d bring size (6-foot-8) and shooting (he’s at a career-best 40.2 percent beyond the 3-point arc this season), and he’s still only 25 years old despite being in his seventh NBA season, so he’d pair well with Boston’s young core.
Gordon's ability to infuse athleticism at the 4 position as another player capable of creating off the dribble would be a considerable boost for Boston. For as good as Grant Williams (41.2 percent) and Semi Ojeleye (38 percent) have shot the ball beyond the arc, they are limited in their abilities to otherwise impact the offense. Boston’s lack of health and depth has spotlighted those players’ limitations.
Boston quite clearly misses the playmaking and defensive versatility lost when another Gordon — Hayward, in this case — took his talents to Charlotte this past offseason.
Despite never quite tapping into his full potential in Orlando, Gordon could offer a decent amount of what Hayward provided as a fourth option in Boston. Gordon provides defensive versatility and fits right into the Celtics' switch-happy schemes. Tracking by Basketball Index had Gordon often taking on tough defensive assignments, with 21.5 percent of his defensive time last season spent on All-Stars (and 15.1 percent of his defensive minutes came against All-NBA players).
Boston’s interest in Gordon likely hinges on the price tag. The Celtics can absorb his $18.1 million salary into the Hayward trade exception but probably would prefer to send out matching salary and preserve that exception for a summer splurge. Relocating enough bodies, and delivering outgoing veteran talent to preferred spots, might require involving a third team.
Reports suggested Boston would have to part with two first-round draft picks, which is a fairly steep ask for a player who isn’t a slam dunk to be part of your starting or closing lineup (though Boston would certainly be banking on him playing the small-ball 5 in some crunch-time groupings).
It’s fair to wonder how much Gordon might thrive outside the Orlando ecosystem. He’d almost certainly see better shots if paired with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and it’s intriguing to think how he could shine with additional space to operate.
But would Gordon embrace being a fourth option? Particularly entering the final year of his contract next season? Could he downshift on some of his more ambitious shot attempts and embrace being a ball-mover who subsists largely on open 3s whenever they come his way?
When healthy, Orlando has a logjam at the 4 spot and moving Gordon makes a lot of sense if able to get a decent return. Reports have indicated that Evan Fournier might intrigue Boston as part of a bigger deal but the only pathway to that almost certainly involves relocating Marcus Smart and we’re not certain that makes sense — especially because Fournier is a free agent after this season and the jury is still out on what Gordon will ultimately become.
All of which leaves us thinking that, if a deal does materialize between the Celtics and Magic, it’s more likely to see Boston try to use draft capital as the primary lure to entice Orlando into a deal that doesn’t necessarily use the TPE. The Celtics would aim to end up below the luxury tax after their deadline/buyout maneuverings.
We’re left wondering if a seller’s market will ultimately drive up costs for Boston in any Gordon pursuit. Ainge typically operates in a cone of silence and for the Celtics to so publicly be labeled frontrunners on Tuesday of deadline week feels a bit like posturing — whether it’s the Magic trying to drum up better offers, or an agent trying to steer his client towards a desired landing spot.
The bottom line is a Gordon pursuit has obvious potential to fix a lot of what the Celtics have lacked since Hayward’s departure. But it comes with plenty of risk that Ainge hasn’t been willing to take on in pursuit of similar talent in previous years.