Last week, I took a pessimistic view of the possibility that the NBA’s new amnesty clause would be the elixir to cure the ills of all the teams in the NBA. And reports out of Detroit that the Pistons will not exercise the amnesty clause this season. While fans are desperate for their favorite team to dump dead weight and rebuild their squad into a playoff contender, the reality is that with a salary floor, tight budgets and an unlimited timeframe to use the clause, few players will probably get the ax under amnesty. Today I look at the situation from the perspective that the Pistons should and will use the amnesty clause. The first entry covered Richard Hamilton. This is the second entry in that series:
Ben Gordon. Before Gordon signed his contract to join the Pistons many fans were warning that the deal wouldn’t end well. The advanced stats guys he was essentially an “empty calories” player. He could put up points but wasn’t efficient enough and didn’t do enough other things on the court to make him worth the hefty investment. Two seasons into his Pistons tenure the results have done nothing but support the pessimistic view as Gordon has done nothing but disappoint in Detroit. At the same time, however, it’s hard not to feel bad for Gordon. While he certainly isn’t blameless, he has been the third wheel in a dysfunctional guard rotation that includes Richard Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey. Gordon doesn’t get the ball enough, doesn’t take enough shots, and isn’t on the floor in ideal situations. But should the Pistons cut their losses and use the amnesty clause on Gordon as opposed to the aforementioned (and discussed) Hamilton or Charlie Villanueva? Here are five reasons why they should:
1. GO BIG OR GO HOME
The Detroit Pistons owe Ben Gordon $36 million over the next three seasons. That is a lot of money to pay someone coming off the two worst seasons of his seven-year career. It’s a lot of money to pay to an elite scorer coming off of a season when he made and attempted the least amount of shots in his career. The amnesty rule is different this season then in its previous incarnation in the fact that the player’s salary doesn’t just come off the rolls for luxury tax purposes, it comes off the team’s salary cap altogether. New owner Tom Gores has deep pockets and there is no quicker way to do a significant overhaul of this roster than to instantly free up $12 million in payroll. Looking at the contracts of the Pistons other amnesty candidates, Gordon is owed the most money over the most years. Villanueva is owed $23 million over the next three years while Hamilton is owed $21.5 million over two (only $9 million of his final year is guaranteed).
2. IT’S EITHER HIM (OR HIM OR HIM) OR ME
If the Pistons can’t find a taker for Richard Hamilton (extremely likely) and don’t want to simply cut him (very likely), then Gordon is once again going to have to settle for sloppy seconds at shooting guard. And if the Pistons try and rebuild Hamilton’s trade value by starting him and playing him big minutes, Gordon will once again be fighting for scraps. And in a reserve role where he is not the focal point of the offense he is destined to once again be ineffective and overpaid. And lets not forget that the Pistons drafted Brandon Knight to be the new point guard of the future, which means that the team will either have to part ways with Rodney Stuckey or move him to an off-guard role. And if Knight proves to be another in a long line of combo guards who could never transition to being an impact point guard, he will command minutes at shooting guard. The team simply has to get rid of one of its guards, and if they want to take advantage of the amnesty clause getting rid of the guard with the biggest contract makes sense.
3. GORDON HAS THE MOST VALUE
While it might be a back-handed compliment to say that Gordon is the most value of a bad bunch of seriously overpaid players, it is simply true. And one of the key aspects of the new amnesty clause is that the waived players do not simply become a free agent. Instead the player goes into a pool and other teams silently bid for that player’s services. With a lot of playoff hopefuls seeking scoring help Gordon would be an attractive commodity (at least by the standards of what the Pistons have to offer). If a couple teams let it be known they want Gordon then they could put in healthy bids and whatever the winning bid is, an equal amount is reduced from Detroit’s fiscal obligation. If a team bids $2 million, the Pistons only owe Gordon $10 million, if the winning bid is $5 million, the Pistons only owe $7 million. And if less money is owed by the Pistons the better chance the team will reinvest it in new players.
4. GORDON IS ONE DIMENSIONAL
Gordon is a shooter. He is not a rebounder (he ranks 30th among shooting guards in rebounds per 48 minutes). He is not a distributor (ranked 20th in assists per 48). He does not play stellar defense or get steals (35th in steals per 48). He doesn’t have a good handle (33rd in turnovers). He just doesn’t do much on the floor that contributes to winning, especially when he is not being fed the ball on a consistent basis. If he is on the Pistons, Gordon should be the guard the offense revolves around, but on a team with Rodney Stuckey that just isn’t going to happen. While Stuckey has incrementally improved every year of his career he has not shown an ability to drive the lane and dish out to open shooters. He can pass the ball in a diagrammed play but he doesn’t have the court vision or awareness to barrel into the lane, understand which defender is collapsing to try and stop him and pass the ball to a now wide open teammate. I hope this is the year Stuckey figures that part of his game out but I’m not holding my breath.
5. GORDON MIGHT BE THE WORST OF A BAD BUNCH
Mark Twain famously said “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Could that situation apply to Gordon? If amnesty really was a three man race in Detroit between Gordon, Hamilton and Villanueva, then Gordon has performed the worst of the three. While none has anything to boast about a simple look at some bad numbers shows that Gordon is the least effective of the bunch. And while getting rid of Hamilton MIGHT open up the clogged backcourt rotation there is no guarantee that Gordon will once again play to the level he did in Chicago. And if they ax Charlie V., Gordon MIGHT take more shots but that doesn’t mean he is going to make them. If you look at the past two seasons, Hamilton has had Win Shares per 48 minutes of .043 and .059. Villanueva has had .092 and .091. Gordon has had marks of .059 and .037. In the Pistons recent fall from grace there has been a lot of finger pointing going on amongst the team, coaches and organization. Fans would like to believe that new coach Lawrence Frank might be able to rekindle what made Gordon so good. I certainly would like to believe that, and even thinking objectively I think it is likely we see a Ben Gordon more reminiscent of the Chicago Bulls version circa 2008. But what if we don’t? If the Pistons cut bait now the league will be more likely to believe he is just as good as he was in Chicago and needed to escape the chaos in Detroit. What if Gordon stays, continues to be terrible and in Twain’s words, “remove(s) all doubt.”