For all roster turnover in Houston over the last four seasons, shooting guard Eric Gordon has stood as a constant.
The Indiana product has spent much of his career in Houston as an instant offense piece off the bench, bombing threes and slashing to the rim as one of the league's leading sixth men. But after a trio of disappointing playoff exits, will Gordon remain a key piece of Houston's core throughout the next decade? The 2020 playoffs could decide his fate.
The Rockets are no stranger to playoff struggles in recent years, though even at their lowest moments, Gordon has often rose to the occasion. He tallied 42 points in the final two games of the 2018 Western Conference finals, and he averaged 18 points per game on 40% from three in the 2019 playoffs. Gordon's postseason performance was partially responsible for his four-year, $76 million contract extension in August 2019. His performance has since taken a serious dip.
Gordon limped out of the gate to kick off 2019-20, shooting a dismal 30.9% from the field in his first nine games before undergoing knee surgery in November. He returned to the floor on Dec. 29, and while his efficiency rose to a degree, he still struggled before the NBA's coronavirus suspension.
Gordon has battled ankle and shin injuries in recent months. He's shooting a career-worst 37% from three this season, and his 14.5 points per game is the second-lowest mark of his career. Save for a 50-point night against the Jazz on Jan. 27, 2019-20 has been a relative disaster for the 12-year veteran.
The August extension was in-part due to Gordon's playoff performance, though there may be a more interesting underlying reason: contract flexibility. General manager Daryl Morey is one of the NBA's more active traders, unafraid to take a big swing to alter Houston's roster.
Morey acquired Chris Paul in the summer of 2017. Two years later, he pulled off another blockbuster to receive Russell Westbrook. Morey even dealt the lone center in the Rockets' rotation on Feb. 4, shipping Clint Capela to Atlanta in order to receive versatile forward Robert Covington. When an opportunity to upgrade the roster arises, Morey is ready to pull the trigger. Gordon could be a casualty in the offseason or before the 2020-21 trade deadline.
Gordon is now the Rockets' premier trade asset given Houston's lack of flexibility. Russell Westbrook and James Harden aren't going anywhere given their supermax contracts. Ben McLemore, P.J. Tucker, Danuel House and Isaiah Hartenstein don't make enough money to match a sizable contract in return. Robert Covington's $12 million salary in 2020-21 and 2021-22 could theoretically be moved, but given his superb play in Houston, he's unlikely to be dealt anytime soon. Gordon could be the odd-man-out.
The Gordon situation is a bit of a paradox for the Rockets. If he struggles in the 2020 playoffs, his value will have officially plummeted. Houston may come to regret Gordon's extension, and frankly, the Rockets may need to attach draft capital to Gordon's contract in a potential trade. Swapping Gordon for an impact frontcourt player–Indiana center Myles Turner remains an appealing option–is a long shot if he doesn't bounce back to close 2019-20.
If Gordon thrives in the 2020 postseason, Houston's position remains confusing, albeit more appealing. Gordon could revive his value and become a trade asset for a team in need of guard scoring, though if he returns to his 2018 and 2019 form, trading Gordon could become a real risk for Morey and Mike D'Antoni.
Houston has thrived in the past when pairing Gordon with one of James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul. Gordon may have his inconsistencies, but shipping him for another asset doesn't guarantee future playoff success. Morey has a delicate dance ahead of him after 2019-20.