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The Case For Eric Gordon: A Houston Rockets Legend

This trade deadline has been one for the ages. While the mains talks surrounded Brooklyn Nets’ Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Houston Rockets were also a main contributor. According to RocketsWire beat writer Jonathan Feigen, expectations for Houston participating in the trade market were unlikely. Many expected to keep tanking and hold on to veteran Eric Gordon. Now that opinion has changed.

An Unexpected Move

Eric Gordon Has Been Traded to the Los Angeles Clippers

Houston Rockets Eric Gordon, Courtesy of The Athletic

On the day of the trade deadline, the Rockets pulled off a surprise three-team deal, trading Eric Gordon the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for John Wall, another pick swap, and veteran wing defender Danny Green. Most importantly, they get rights on that Clippers 2023 pick swap, moving their Bucks pick up to the top ten. Additionally, they also traded away Garrison Matthews and Bruno Fernando to the Atlanta Hawks for Justin Holiday and Frank Kaminsky.

These trades are huge for Houston, as more of their young players such as KJ Martin and Josh Christopher to get a bump in minutes and add a bevy of veteran players on the roster.

On the subject of Eric Gordon, he is now the final piece to be traded away from their 2016-2020 finals contention era. While it seems ages ago, it isn’t without remembering how much Gordon contributed to the team. Let’s talk about it.

Prolonged Knee Issues

Prior to Gordon’s arrival in Houston in the offseason of 2016, the veteran shooting guard had been hampered with significant leg injuries throughout his career. He was drafted 7th overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2008 and had supreme All-Star potential. Gordon was known to be an efficient slasher, a great 3-and-D player, and a savvy one on one specialist. However, he wasn’t immune to the injury bug.

After three promising seasons with the Clippers, Gordon was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans during the middle of the 2011 offseason. This was when the constant knee injuries began. On the opening game during the 2011-2012 lockout, Gordon bumped knees with Phoenix Suns Grant Hill, causing a bone bruise.

In actuality, the bone bruise reaggravated a pre-existing right knee injury that wasn’t disclosed prior to Gordon’s trade to the team. This later turned in an injury that required surgery. Gordon only played 9 games in the lockout 2011-2012 season, eagerly looking forward for a comeback. This didn’t necessarily happen, as he continued to re-injure his knees, requiring several arthroscopic surgeries on both of them in a span of three seasons between 2012 and 2014.

Other injuries included a torn labrum along with hand and finger injuries, sidelining him for most of the 2014-2015 season and played just 45 games the following 2015-2016 season. When he was on the court, Gordon’s athleticism had severely declined. He needed to reinvent himself.

A New Era In Houston

After the Houston Rockets end to their 2015-2016 season in disappointing fashion, Morey needed to sign a new coach. The system of then coach Kevin McHale wasn’t working. His style of offense was extremely slow paced, with no benefit to their defense. James Harden was the only shooting guard that initiated the scoring. and All-Star center Dwight Howard failed to anchor their inside defense. Not only that, either of them weren’t working out together on and off the court.

Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors’ performance on the floor drastically altered the NBA environment. Houston recognized the success of the Warriors during the offseason and decided to make a change.

After Howard declined his $23 million player option, he was expected to sign with another team. This caused former General Manager Daryl Morey to completely put the basketball in Harden’s hands. Morey also hired Mike D’Antoni, famous for the seven seconds or less Phoenix Suns offense, which brought multiple deep playoff runs in the mid 2000s.

D’Antoni wanted to completely eliminate plays that involved two-point jumpers, and only prioritize on finding the open man beyond the arc or easy layups to the basket. This meant signing three point specialists that could defend the wings, namely Eric Gordon.


On July 2nd, 2016, the Houston Rockets signed guard Eric Gordon to a four-year, $53 million contract. Due to the league salary bump that summer, most players received contracts that were heavily over their usual pay grade. This benefitted players like Gordon, who at the time was considered overpaid, given his injury history.

However, Gordon proved to be worthy of this deal. In his first season, Gordon played 75 games, averaging 16.2 points in 31.8 minutes. Gordon inserted himself well in D’Antoni’s system, shooting a respectable 37.2% from deep on nearly nine attempts per game. His impeccable ability in catch and shoot threes from the “parking lot” as Bill Worrell said were a thing a beauty. Putting him alongside Harden during games as a vaunted distance shooter was tough to beat.

Gordon also broke the record for most threes off the bench (180) in 49 games. If Houston needed a quick three to start their offense, Gordon was their man.

The Highs

His important role as the sixth man anchored Houston’s second unit very well, as he helped the team reach 55 wins and the 3rd seed in the Western Conference. This garnered him as the recipient of the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award, becoming the first player in Rockets franchise history to receive the award. Additionally, he was also crowned the 2017 Three Point Contest Champion.

Signing Gordon proved to be a win in for Houston’s future. In the following season, his performance improved, averaging 18 points in 68 games. While his three point percentage dipped to 36% on nine attempts per game, he made an effort to drive more to the basket. This gave him more opportunities to make more clutch shots from the free-throw line, as his free throw attempts increased from 2.3 to 3.5 on a solid 80%. His solid play along with MVP James Harden and Chris Paul garnered the team a franchise record 65 wins, the best team in the league.

In the playoffs, Houston nearly dethroned Golden State in the Western Conference Finals that season. This isn’t without mentioning one of Gordon’s iconic shots as well as a steal in the last possession of Game 5 that propelled the Rockets to a 3-2 series lead.

Gordon played nearly another full season in his third year with the team (68 games) and started more games (58) due to Chris Paul’s injuries, averaging another solid 16.2 points on 36% from deep. There were many highlights that occurred this season, notably a 126-121 overtime win against the Warriors in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals. Gordon scored 30 pointers along with seven three pointers en route to the win.

The Lows

Gordons consistency over the last three seasons earned him a four-year, $75 million dollar extension. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. Following the first year of this signing, Gordon suffered through another knee injury, as he only played 36 games. His production on the floor was down as well. Not only did he average 14.4 points on a 36.9% field goal percentage, but also his three point percentage declined significantly to 31.7%, the lowest in his career since the 2011-2012 season.

Following their 2020 bubble playoff exit in five games, Houston went through a complete overhaul of their roster. James Harden and most of their veteran roster were traded or signed with other teams. This later turned into a full rebuild for the 2020-2021 season. Ironically, Gordon’s role in this didn’t make much of an impact. He stayed on the team and became a veteran to the younger players.

His presence on the court was nonexistent however, as he suffered through another consecutive year of injuries, playing in only 27 games. Houston ended up as the worst team in the Western Conference, going 17-55, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

Gordon’s New Role

The Houston Rockets continue to experience a difficult rebuilding period, with three consecutive losing seasons placing them at the bottom of the standings. However, during this challenging time, Gordon stepped up as a leader, providing valuable playoff experience and guidance to the team’s younger players.

Gordon expressed his desire to end his NBA career as a Houston Rocket, which could have been a significant and remarkable accomplishment for both him and the team. However, the Rockets had to prioritize their young players to facilitate their development and growth.

Starting Gordon on high minutes took away time from players who really needed it. However, his production steadily increased, creating more trade value for himself. Pulling the trigger on this trade will help the Rockets future going forward. Additionally, Gordon goes back to the team that drafted him in the Los Angeles Clippers. At 34, he can still produce at a high level, and is now in the midst of another playoff run with new teammates in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.

A Household Name

Regardless, the fans in Houston wish him the best. His tenacity, love for the city, impact on the floor, and contributions to the Houston Rockets during their playoff era will not go unnoticed. Bottom line, Eric Gordon is a household name in Houston Rockets history. Hopefully he comes back as a media contributor.


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