Article written by Zach Zola (@ZachZola1)
Fun guy and the king of memes, Eric Gordon has transitioned into the role of elder statesman on this young Rockets team. He is the longest tenured Rocket – having been on the roster since the 2016-17 season – and has lived through multiple iterations of Rockets basketball by this point.
On this team, Gordon’s role is a bit undefined at the moment. Will he get as many minutes as in year’s past? Will he be traded? Let’s dive in below to talk about his potential role on the 2021-22 Houston Rockets.
Going into this year, Rockets fans feel quite differently about Eric Gordon than they did going into the season before. The reason is simple – his improved play and mentality. In 2019, Gordon had his worst year as a Rocket, shooting a paltry 36.9% from the field – the lowest in his career by far. His year culminated in an extremely disappointing playoff run that saw him practically disappear in a semifinals bout against the Lakers. Many fans – including myself – expected him to be traded in the offseason.
Ironically, he was one of the few players (and coaches and GMs) not to be traded coming into the 2020-21 season. And to all of our surprise, he immediately looked like a completely different player. He came out of the gates hot, dropping 20+ points in 8 of his first 12 appearances. Gordon’s season was unfortunately cut short in March due to injuries.
Despite the injuries, the year was ultimately a rejuvenation for Gordon. He shot the ball better, looked far more spry off the dribble, and stepped into a leadership role amid major roster upheaval.
And, most importantly, he had fun.
Gordon made his appearance at Rockets media day earlier this week. He was asked questions mainly about his role on such a young, rebuilding team. This interview could have gone a lot worse than it did. Meaning…at this point in his career, nobody would blame Gordon for wanting to win now. He is a 13-year veteran, and came close to a championship with the Rockets in year’s past. Playing on a team with a bunch of young players probably isn’t the most exciting thing for him.
However, Gordon is appearing to look at things differently. Rather than view this year as a demotion, he is seeing it as an opportunity.
Gordon, one of the quietest players on the team in past seasons, will become one of the vocal leaders on a squad filled with rookies and inexperiences players. Most importantly, Gordon says that he is “Still going to play to win”. While many fans are looking to lose games and expedite the rebuild, cultivating a winning culture is a more positive route to take.
From these comments, we should expect Eric Gordon to come into the season ready to roll.
Perhaps the biggest development from media day was the reveal of the Rockets’ potential starting lineup. As it stands, three out of five positions are locks – Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, and Christian Wood. And with Daniel Theis rumored to slot in at center, that leaves one spot up for grabs.
Gordon, perennial Rockets sixth man, will be one of the players competing for this last starting role. If given the job, he would add a nice dimension to the current group as the most prolific three-point shooter. However, his quickness and ability to handle the ball makes him an obvious choice to back up Jalen Green. If Gordon were to start, there wouldn’t be as much versatility off the bench. The Rockets need him to bolster the second unit and pick up some of the ball-handling slack whenever KPJ and Green need some rest.
Despite all the positives, it is no secret that Eric Gordon is the most likely trade candidate from the Rockets. He has three years remaining on a contract that will be worth over 20 million dollars annually. This is by no means a disastrous contract for his skillset, but it’s certainly not ideal for a rebuilding team.
While head coach Stephen Silas would love to win games, the priority is the development of younger players. If still on the roster by midseason, Eric Gordon could suddenly find himself in a position where he’s losing minutes to players like Josh Christopher or even Khyri Thomas. Gordon is simply too good of an NBA player for that to happen at this stage in his career. If the Rockets are winning games and competing for a playoff spot, it’s another story; but as it stands, Gordon’s value will come from mentoring the young players at the beginning of the season and then being moved close to the deadline.
With his three-point shooting, defense, and driving ability, Gordon is a player that can fit on most NBA teams. I won’t speculate too much on what the Rockets can receive in return for him (likely nothing great), but they shouldn’t have too much trouble moving him to a contending team when the time comes.
If Gordon does end up getting traded, his 5+ seasons in Houston will be looked back on fondly. He always played his role, dropped 50 points against the Jazz, and, most importantly, gave us facial reactions that will last a lifetime.
Whatever happens, I think it’s safe to say that all of us would be happy to see him win a championship one day.