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New Orleans Pelicans should pursue Aaron Gordon in earnest trade talks

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The Magic forward needs a new home and his potential fit in New Orleans is an exciting thought exercise

Orlando Magic v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans were one of the teams named yesterday of having trade eyes for Magic forward Aaron Gordon, per a Bleacher Report article penned by Jake Fischer.

Some lead members of New Orleans’ front office are also quite high on Gordon, sources said.

The Rockets, Mavericks, Nuggets and Warriors were also listed as interested parties.

The Magic are currently next to last in the Eastern Conference standings, sitting 4.5 games off the pace for the final play-in slot (10th). With needing to hurdle four teams in less than half a shortened season and starters Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac out for the rest of this campaign, it would behoove Orlando to retool a roster that has struggled with mediocrity for years.

Although the Magic have made the playoffs twice during Gordon’s tenure, they’ve only enjoyed one winning season — a 42-40 record during the 2018-19 season. That’s not something to brag about; thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to read that both the Magic and Gordon are ready to part ways.

The name to watch closest of all: Aaron Gordon, considered to be particularly available, and the 25-year-old forward is also eager to welcome a change of scenery, sources said.

According to Fischer, the Magic are not asking for a king’s ransom in return for Gordon so the Pelicans’ war chest would not remotely be depleted following a deal.

Orlando’s asking price appears reasonable, seeking a combination of picks and young players.

Would Orlando have interest in a trade package that largely includes Eric Bledsoe, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, a future first (not the Pelicans 2021 first rounder) and either the Wizards or Cavaliers 2021 second round pick for Aaron Gordon? If not, alterations could be made, perhaps substituting or adding Jaxson Hayes and other future assets.

A workable deal seems realistic as the Mavericks, Rockets, Nuggets and Warriors could all be outbid — provided none of those teams tosses in a tantalizing chip like the 2021 Minnesota first rounder, James Wiseman or Michael Porter Jr. into any scenario.

So, why should the Pelicans be in the hunt for Aaron Gordon’s services? To significantly beef up the team’s defense without sacrificing too much in the scoring, shooting, passing and rebounding departments.

For all their wonderful abilities on offense, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson are well below average defensively. That may change to some degree down the road, but as we witness almost on a nightly basis, their deficiencies negatively impact the Pelicans ability to win games and advanced metrics point out the glaring red flags.

2020-21 Defensive RAPTOR 2020-21 Defensive Real Plus-Minus D-LEBRON
Zion Williamson -2.3 (300/345) -1.85 (456/486) -1.1 (15th percentile)
Brandon Ingram -2.5 (309/345) -0.30 (287/486) -1.1 (15th percentile)
Aaron Gordon +2.1 (60/345) +1.15 (73/486) +0.6 (78th percentile)
Eric Bledsoe -3.0 (322/345) -2.85 (473/486) -0.8 (22nd percentile)
*Defensive RAPTOR among players appearing in minimum 251 minutes (via 538)
**Defensive Real Plus-Minus (via ESPN)
***D-LeBron (via BBall Index)

In examining this chart, the rankings in the parentheses paint a dismal picture, but flipping Bledsoe for Gordon would be an instant boon to the team defensively. As to how much improvement the Pelicans would enjoy depends on how willing Gordon would be to accept a new role among teammates who have no issues with putting points on the board.

On the Orlando Magic, Gordon’s often sought to be one of the primary scorers and playmakers, but those are not his strengths. In turn, poor decision-making off the dribble and ill-advised shots have often plagued his consistency.

Case in point, Gordon ranks in the 5th percentile in both isolations and as a pick-and-roll ball handler on the season. That’s awful. However, he slots in the 63rd percentile on cuts and 70th percentile in spot-up situations. That’s more than acceptable.

In watching Gordon over the years, he is clearly better suited to play a complimentary role on offense and this fact has never been more evident than today. The 25-year-old is hitting a career best 36.5% from deep and 45.7% of his catch-and-shoot threes. That’ll play on any team.

Rather than acting as one of the leads on offense, Gordon could theoretically in turn put forth more effort in utilizing his immense physical talents on shutting down gifted scorers across the league. There’s been solid glimpses which have many close followers of his pining for more.

Gordon is still young enough that it’s entirely possible he would shift his approach on a different team, focusing more on defense than trying to initiate the offense. He could be convinced to do that by the change of scenery. Or maybe David Griffin, Stan Van Gundy or from simply watching how fluid and potent the Pelicans offense operates when the ball is in the hands of Zion, Ingram or Lonzo could be all the proof he needs.

To be honest, Gordon has never had the pleasure of playing with a point guard like Ball, who is always seeking out open teammates first and has the ability to drop passes so few can make. Good ball movement is contagious. It becomes a mindset on the floor. It’s easier to fill a role off of the ball when one knows touches will still be there, and that a simple cut or staying ready for the catch on the perimeter leads to a decent amount of scoring opportunities and exciting finishes.

I wouldn’t bet against a different style of play, alongside a number of unselfish teammates, naturally unlocking Gordon’s best potential. Star voids on rosters can be debilitating for development. Plus, spending years next to point guards with limited vision and score-first launchers like Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross can’t breed too many good habits. Especially not when a team is losing more games than it wins.

Gordon has one more year left on his current contract after this season at a very palatable rate of $16.4 million. That’s plenty of time to kick the tires. Shedding Bledsoe’s defensive dead weight for a player who has the capability to guard 3s and 4s really well — finally slotting a necessary good-sized defender between Ingram and Zion — sounds positively delightful. And looking deeper, a dynamic small-ball lineup of Ball-Ingram-Hart-Gordon-Zion could be hell on earth for opponents in certain situations.

If given a choice in some fantasy world, Jonathan Isaac, De’Andre Hunter and Larry Nance would probably be my first three picks at forward to place next to Zion, BI and Zo. Jae Crowder, OG Anunoby, Luguentz Dort and maybe even Patrick Williams wouldn’t sit far behind.

Since reality is what truly matters and players have to be at least partially attainable on the trade market, though, it’s hard to peg more appropriate fits than Aaron Gordon. He’s not the perfect candidate, but the roster upgrade and cost very much feel worth the investment.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @OlehKosel.