Timing is everything in the NBA. If timing had been a little different, the Celtics would probably have traded for Paul George after signing Gordon Hayward. If timing were different, Danny Ainge would have swung for Anthony Davis mid-season two years ago. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum probably would have been involved in those deals. Kyrie Irving might never have become a Celtic. Hayward may never have broken his ankle.
Timing changes the course of history in immeasurable ways. Now, Ainge has an opportunity to change it again.
The timing is right for the Celtics and Orlando Magic to make a deal for Aaron Gordon.
Ainge can not only replenish the required amount of Gordons on the Celtics roster, he can bring in a guy who has been miscast and misused for his entire career. In Gordon, the Celtics can bring in a player who, with the proper guidance, coaching, and team makeup, can become a force in the East.
The Magic find themselves in a position to retool a bit. Making the playoffs is important to perpetually rebuilding Magic, but this is not the year to let pride get in the way of good team building. The 2021 NBA draft is one of the most highly anticipated of all time, and taking one more year to bring in some young assets, future picks, and, frankly, lose a lot of games in order to get a future franchise star makes sense. The Magic might not get bad enough to get the top pick, but they could find themselves in the mix for a franchise savior.
At 25 years old, Gordon is still young enough to fit some of that Orlando timeline, but in reality is more suited to bring back young players and picks to work more around Jonathan Isaac and whomever the Magic can get with their 2021 draft pick. With Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, and Terrence Ross, the Magic have tradeable pieces to take one more necessary step back before building a real contender.
Let’s face it, the rest of the East has taken big steps forward. The Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, and Toronto Raptors all join Boston in a class of teams that’s well above the Magic. Orlando probably can’t even compete with the Indiana Pacers for the 7th seed right now, so they’re laying their future hopes on playoff tournament wins and the right to get slaughtered in the first round again.
Their timeline allows them to sell off some pieces while Isaac sits out to rehab his torn ACL. It gives Markelle Fultz a chance to grow into a prime role and, perhaps, realize some of that promise that made him a top overall pick. By the time they can potentially be really good, other teams in the East can be on their way down.
The best way to rocket to the top of the standings is to draft an elite player, and this upcoming draft has a lot of great chances at finding one. The Boston Celtics have one in the making in Jayson Tatum. Now they just need to find him some more help. Future draft picks have value, but the Celtics are moving out of the player development portion of their team-building. They are now entering a phase where proven, veteran entities are more valuable.
The timing is just right.
The main criticism of Gordon is that he tries to do too much for the Magic; that he seems himself as a primary wing scorer rather than a potentially elite complementary player. In Boston he’d be nudged into his best fit by a coach who has a knack for drawing the best out of individual players, and a team constructed to take away opportunities that highlight his flaws.
Boston’s perimeter is stacked. At full health, Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum are already All-Stars and Jaylen Brown is knocking on that door. Gordon would play the 4 on a full-time basis next to either Daniel Theis or Tristan Thompson or even be a small-ball 5 in certain situations.
Used more to his strengths as a rolling and roaming big who can operate in the wake of others by getting to the rim while also creating for his elite teammates, Gordon could unlock his true superpowers. He would command attention and create even wider lanes for Walker, Tatum, Brown, and Marcus Smart. And with the gravity of those drivers sucking in defenders, he might be able to find more open 3-pointers, which he hit at a 35% clip two seasons ago.
Gordon fits perfectly within the Gordon Hayward Traded Player Exception. His $18.1 million salary is at the high end of what the hard-capped Celtics can acquire, and the contract goes down to $16.4 million next year. The sooner the Celtics can pull off a deal, the more time they’ll have to see how well he adapts to this situation.
The only question is how much Orlando wants in return. Boston could send young players, perhaps using Robert Williams as a centerpiece of the “untapped potential” type of player who can get a good look (this assumes they’ll give him time by moving Vucevic this season). Maybe Romeo Langford becomes the selling point. Maybe it’s future first round picks. Whatever it is, there is certainly a deal to be done.
Orlando can score a valuable return without having to take back unwanted salary for a player who might be aging out of their timeline sooner rather than later. Boston can immensely improve themselves not only by adding Gordon, but by pushing a starting player to the bench, giving it a little boost.
Brad Stevens wants guys to complement his stars on the perimeter. Gordon, with a little bit of encouragement, can do that. Boston has the tool to use to make this happen soon. Ainge has to make it happen.