Restricted free agent guard Eric Gordon said his heart is in Phoenix now, but the Hornets can make sure the rest of him resides in New Orleans.
On Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the NBA’s signing period, Gordon will sign the offer sheet that he agreed to last week with the Suns. From then, the Hornets will have three days to match the four-year, $58 million deal, and all signs indicate that they will.
General Manager Dell Demps has said repeatedly this offseason that despite a draft haul that included two lottery picks, the long-term plan is to build around Gordon, whom the team acquired in the trade that sent Chris Paul to the Clippers last year.
“Eric’s the priority,” said Demps, who also said Gordon had expressed a desire to return to New Orleans, where he led the team in scoring (20.6 points per game) despite playing in just nine games because of injury.
Then, things hit a speed bump. The agreement with Phoenix was a necessary first step — it set the bar for what kind of offer the Hornets would need to match — but what followed was a bit of a shock.
The 23-year-old Gordon released a statement saying he wants to play for the Suns, and he expressed confusion about New Orleans’ plans for him since they had not been in negotiations.
Based on Demps’ comments, no negotiations were needed.
The situation is simple: the Hornets have the salary cap space to match the Suns’ offer, and doing so will bring Gordon back. The only thing left is to show him the money, and on Wednesday, they can finally do that.
The day will also bring in a fresh face, as a reported trade with Orlando will become official.
The Hornets agreed to a sign-and-trade deal with the Magic that will send forward Gustavo Ayon in return for free agent forward Ryan Anderson. At 6-foot-10, Anderson started 61 games last season and averaged 16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds.
The fifth-year player will add height and versatility to the Hornets. He led the NBA in 3-pointers (166) last season and could play on the wing or down low, where forward and No. 1 pick Anthony Davis will be in need of support.
With the 6-foot-10 Ayon gone, 7-footer Chris Kaman an unrestricted free agent and recent acquisition Rashard Lewis waived, the options to play alongside Davis are few.
Outside of Anderson, 7-foot forward Jason Smith and 6-foot-11 center Darryl Watkins — who played in just five games last season — are the only other big men on the roster.
Adding height and more of a veteran presence are areas where the Hornets could still stand to improve, but the first mission is to grab Gordon and solidify a talented guard tandem with No. 10 pick Austin Rivers.
The Rivers pick may have rubbed Gordon the wrong way, just another example of crossed wires between him and the Hornets. Just as the club has no intention of letting his heart and jump shot land in Phoenix, there are no plans to replace him with Rivers.
“I’ve always watched him,” Rivers said of Gordon. “He’s the real deal and has the potential to be an all-star in the next couple of years. He’s a really good player, so it will be nice to be in the backcourt with someone like that.”