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Eric Gordon's Discontent And The Player View Of Cap Space


We've spent so much time arguing about the logic of the trade for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza that I thought every single possible angle was already covered. But then, a funny thing happened on Friday night. Eric Gordon, the prized restricted free agent of the Hornets, declared his interest in not wanting to play for the franchise again.

One reason he gave should raise your eyebrows (via Jimmy Smith of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, with video from Hornets 24/7).

"I was a little surprised; we have no center and no bigs," Gordon said. "You look at our roster right now, what do we have, one big? Jason Smith? Before Anthony Davis, we had no bigs.

That was just one part of Gordon's rambling address on the evils of restricted free agency. The whole thing sounds like a guy who is speaking emotionally rather than rationally, not understanding how restricted free agency works. He's getting criticized, deservedly, for signing an offer, then getting upset that the Hornets might match rather than taking the Hornets' one-year qualifying offer and leaving as an unrestricted free agent next year. That criticism is legitimate.

However, that's different than saying that Gordon's point comes out of thin air. For one, the Hornets didn't talk to him at all through this process, choosing instead to wait for him to get an offer. That may be the sensible approach in theory, but in practice, the players aren't robots. They have egos, insecurities and the like that have to be managed by personal interactions. For another, Gordon is, somewhat understandably, upset in part because of the Hornets' direction. He sees them making a trade to remove two veterans, one of which, as he noted, was a big man. Then, they drafted a player in the lottery that plays his position rather than try to plug another hole.

Hornets GM Dell Demps, of course, would see it differently. The trade of Okafor and Ariza opened up much-needed salary-cap space for his team to build around Anthony Davis and, presumably, Gordon. The draft is for finding talent, not plugging holes, so the selection of Austin Rivers was as much an admission that picking any big man at No. 10 would have been a reach for Demps. Restricted free agency gives the Hornets latitude to match any offer, so there's really no point in panicking when Gordon got the deal from the Suns.

But the fact is, there's a disconnect. And it's something that us fans must understand when evaluating personnel moves. Bridging and addressing that disconnect is part of what a good GM has to do.

(For another example: note Deron Williams' comments about how he only decided to sign with the Nets when they trade for Joe Johnson and his horrible contract. Williams didn't give a crap about that contract; he just wanted to play with another very good player).

It also should cause us to think about a new consideration for Ernie Grunfeld's trade for Okafor and Ariza. There's no real danger of John Wall leaving town when his contract is up. The same restricted free agency rules that will likely force Gordon to go kicking and screaming back to the Hornets will keep Wall in D.C. no matter what. But at the same time, Wall doesn't care about cap flexibility, saving powder for 2014, unbalanced trades and the like. All he knows is losing; all he wants to do is fix it. To him, the addition of two guys he knows of for absolutely nothing demonstrate that his front office agrees with him.

There's value in that. Why? Because otherwise, Wall could be lashing out like Gordon is right now, which would cause an even bigger headache. The Wizards could and would probably keep Wall anyway, but NBA players don't usually forget these kinds of things. They sit below the surface for a while, but the second they have a chance to come back up, it'll hurt the franchise even more. Just consider the reasons why Ray Allen left the Celtics for the Heat.

Of course, that alone doesn't justify a trade. Players don't make good GMs, because GMs need to think ahead when players don't. If a move is made just to placate a player, it's likely not a good long-term move. At the same time, the players are human, and their egos need to be considered and managed. It's as bad to alienate your stars over a move as it is to tie up cap space in mediocre players.

Three weeks ago, two teams made a trade. One team has a happy star, but a less optimal cap situation for the next two years. The other has an unbelievable cap situation for the next two years, but an unhappy star. It's all more complicated than it looks.