Eric Gordon signing cherry on top of Suns’ outstanding free agency
Jul 2, 2023, 4:30 PM | Updated: 6:30 pm
(Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns president of basketball operations and general manager James Jones said in the past his vision for a roster is an index card. Three-by-five.
Depth that legitimately goes three deep at all five positions. It’s a borderline unfeasible ask in today’s NBA, possessing reliability up and down the roster while still having the stars required to win.
But after guard Eric Gordon agreed to a two-year deal with the Suns on Sunday, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Phoenix has come as close as possible to accomplishing it. And the Suns did it through seven signings that all had to take the veteran’s minimum. It is a remarkable weekend of free agency with that important context.
Before covering Gordon’s game, here’s the projected 15-man roster, with some clarity still to come on the two-way situation (that is now three spots next season).
PG: Devin Booker, Eric Gordon, Cam Payne
SG: Bradley Beal, Jordan Goodwin, Damion Lee
SF: Josh Okogie, Keita Bates-Diop, Ish Wainright
PF: Kevin Durant, Yuta Watanabe, Isaiah Todd
C: Deandre Ayton, Drew Eubanks, Chimezie Metu
Two-way: Touamni Camara (?), ?, ?
There could technically still be more to come.
Todd was a part of the Beal trade and is a developmental project, highly unlikely to factor into Phoenix’s picture this season. The Suns could waive him to create one more spot if they find another wing willing to compete for minutes as opposed to a guaranteed role. Camara, the 52nd pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, presumably is now on a two-way contract, with all 15 spots now maxed out. Phoenix also has Saben Lee, a two-way restricted free agent who could take that position again. Todd could come back on a two-way deal if he is waived. And then there could be a Deandre Ayton trade still on the horizon. Phoenix can have up to 21 players in the offseason.
Looking beyond the roster positionally and analyzing it more for supplementary skillsets, Gordon injects more ball-handling for the group outside of the Big 3, a crucial get so all of that does not fall on the shoulders of Payne.
The shooting necessity that required a mid-series rotation shuffle last postseason comes in through Gordon too, as well as the heady and relentless Lee and Watanabe.
For point-of-attack defense, Okogie’s return was important. Goodwin will be his partner in (long) arms. Looking more at the wing, Bates-Diop, Camara and Wainright bring a combination of size and strength for the bigger bodies.
On the inside, it’s three different talents. Ayton is positioned to have an incredible season with a role he thrived in three postseasons ago. Eubanks is a prolific shot-blocker and has great touch inside 15 feet as a diver with his screens that arrive with a physical reputation. Metu is the more explosive roller who is a 3-point-shot away (he is working on it) to providing the 4/5 flexibility he needs given how great of an athlete he is.
Let’s simplify this even further, down to a nine-man playoff rotation. Look at those skillsets again. Beyond the top four names on the roster, it comes down to filling those five: ball-handler, shooter, point-of-attack specialist, defensive-minded wing and backup big. On July 2, it looks like Gordon, Watanabe, Okogie, Bates-Diop and Eubanks but Jones gave head coach Frank Vogel plenty of options to sort through and turn to.
Is it the deepest team in the league? Of course not. But the Suns now have some legitimate depth behind the best Big 3 in the league, coming off a year when all five of those supplementary skillsets were question marks one way or the other.
Again, Phoenix did this dealing a declining point guard with little-to-no trade value, a reserve guard who massively struggled two straight years, six second-round picks, four draft swaps — only one of which should be consequential — and cash for Bradley freaking Beal (plus one potential playoff contributor in Goodwin), while signing the rest on veteran’s minimum contracts.
Gordon brings everything together. He is the true ring chaser we theorized about for weeks, an established veteran taking a pay cut for a role that is certainly not in concrete so it could land in an awesome situation.
Okogie and Lee certainly could have done better financially with more patience and had a right to use some. Both were coming off the best seasons of their NBA tenures, a factor often lost on quick-triggered reactions to a chaotic weekend that shares similarities to Carmen Berzatto’s kitchen. They chose Phoenix, an ecosystem with trust and an opportunity they could easily cash in off next summer if all goes well for them. Bates-Diop, Eubanks and Watanabe also had career years, albeit with far less lights on them for less relevant teams, so there surely were some teams out there that would have offered more than the minimum soon enough (if they hadn’t already).
Gordon practically auditioned for this role three months ago when his Los Angeles Clippers lost to the Suns in five games. Once James Harden and Chris Paul were out of Houston at the end of the 2010s, Gordon was perpetually attached to trade rumors for years, including with the Suns. This followed a 2012 summer when the former No. 7 overall pick by the Clippers in 2008 agreed to an offer sheet with Phoenix in restricted free agency before it was matched by the New Orleans Hornets.
In February, Gordon’s departure in a deal finally came. He immediately became one of the Clippers’ most important players, filling a secondary ball-handler role that was empty after a failed John Wall experiment. At 34 years old, there had to be some motivation for Gordon to prove himself in a winning environment after whittling away on terrible Rockets teams the last few years.
He did and will be very useful in the Valley.
For years now, the Suns have desperately needed a microwave scorer off the bench. Even when Cam Johnson provided that as a Sixth Man of the Year finalist in 2021-22, the source coming directly on the ball is a more reliable dynamic. While Gordon could certainly close games, having a primary defensive option start alongside Booker and Beal will put Gordon in a position to win his second Sixth Man of the Year award. (He might be competing with Paul for that, by the way. Fun subplot.)
In Game 1 of the April series, Gordon scored 12 of his 19 points in the first quarter of the lone victory for L.A. in the series. That’s the three-minute frozen pizza level of efficiency we’re talking about.
Gordon is one of basketball’s best shooters when it comes to how situationally versatile he is. To expand on that, Gordon often takes 3s beyond the 3-point line, out to the “4-point line” some teams practice with to stress the importance of extra spacing.
Look at where the line is on these.
Gordon’s pull-ups include stepbacks off his handle that are well equipped with some shake to get cooking, and it’s almost mechanical how perfect his form launches that thing.
Because of the range, he has to be defended differently. The Suns played some lazy defense in that series and Gordon benefitted from it.
While some of the explosive quick-twitch movements have faded, Gordon still owns a solid first step on slashing efforts and has proficiency there. In the last three seasons, Gordon has shot 55% on field-goal attempts off possessions NBA.com’s tracking constitutes as drives. Dude is still strong.
Defensively, Gordon proved a lot of doubters coming into the series (like myself) wrong. The foot speed isn’t what it once was and he was the guy Phoenix picked on the most but Gordon worked his tail off to get around screens and be physical as part of the fire-hydrant sized guards deployed on Durant.
Gordon was great. I was wrong about him and Westbrook on D. Good help at the elbow from Russ. pic.twitter.com/abyGtC2tWY
— Kellan Olson (@KellanOlson) April 17, 2023
It’s not an argument to say Gordon is a positive on that end or avoids being a negative but he showed a willingness with great persistence.
It’s ridiculous to insinuate a team with Beal, Booker and Durant is lacking firepower. But having that extra bit of oomph will prove to be such a luxury.
In the event one of them gets hurt, Gordon’s minutes get bumped up and he’s the third on-ball source. When one of them has an off night, Gordon can fill in the gaps. And when the trio is firing on all cylinders, Gordon’s every-possession value as the, “Go ahead, we dare you to leave him open” shooter to stick in the corner like Lee and Watanabe is the great equalizer in crunch time.
The Suns didn’t reload this summer. They reinvented themselves, and got much better because of it.