Signing New Contract with Magic Brought Tears of Joy to Gordon's Eyes

by John Denton

LAS VEGAS – After he signed the lucrative, multi-year contract that should make him financially secure for the rest of his life, and after he wiped away the tears of joy, Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon celebrated the only way he knew how.

``Man, it brought tears to my eyes,’’ Gordon said of agreeing to a new contract with the Magic – the only NBA team he’s ever played for. ``I celebrated by going to UCF and getting up shots. The Magic (practice) floor wasn’t ready and I celebrated by getting shots up, having the ball in my hands and looking at the basket. It is surreal, man, (the contract) brought tears to my eyes.’’

Gordon, 22, entered July 1 as a restricted free agent, meaning he could have gone out and signed a contractual offer sheet with another NBA franchise. The Magic could have matched that deal in order to retain their budding star, but the process never ventured in that direction. Gordon said he personally never spoke to another NBA franchise and he was delighted to know by July 2 that he would remain in Magic pinstripes.

``I’m a guy who naturally has a lot of energy, so with all of that (pressure of getting an agreement) piled on top of me, I was pacing,’’ Gordon said at halftime of the Magic’s Summer League game against the Phoenix Suns on Monday at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas. ``It’s relief that we got it done and even more relief that I can come back to Orlando.’’

Gordon is coming off a 2017-18 season in which he averaged career highs in points (17.6), rebounds (7.9), assists (2.3), blocks (0.8), steals (1.0), minutes (32.9) and 3-point shooting (33.6 percent).

He was Orlando’s best player in October, November and December and an early candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. In his first 28 games of the season, Gordon averaged 18.8 points on 49.8 percent shooting and a jaw-dropping 41.2 percent accuracy from 3-point range. He ended 2017 with a 39-point, seven-rebound and five-3-pointer effort against the Miami Heat.

However, things quickly turned for Gordon after the calendar turned to 2018. Two more concussions and a mild hip injury robbed him of much of his rhythm and he struggled through long stretches over the final 3½ months of the season.

Still, the Magic believed in the promise of a player who led or tied for the team lead in scoring 20 times and in rebounding 18 times. In addition to pouring in the career-best 41 points against Brooklyn and another 40 against Oklahoma City, Gordon had game-winning 3-point shots against Memphis and Brooklyn early in the season.

The next step, Gordon stressed, is finding a way to elevate his play so that the Magic can be successful and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2012. Orlando hasn’t won more than 35 games in Gordon’s four seasons with the franchise, and that’s something he desperately wants to change.

``I’m just looking to preach a winning culture, winning habits and being all about winning,’’ said Gordon, who sat courtside and near the Magic’s bench on Monday night. ``If we win, everybody gets paid. That’s how it goes and that’s how it’s always been. We’ve got a bunch of talented guys on this team and if we come together and we can make something happen.’’

A few of the talented guys that Gordon was referring to were 20-year-olds Jonathan Isaac and Mo Bamba. They were Orlando’s No. 6 picks in each of the past two NBA Drafts and they are loaded with length, energy and defensive grit – all things that Gordon prides his game upon. Fans on Twitter have affectionately nicknamed the potential frontline pairing ``B.I.G.’’ as an acronym for the first letter of the last names of Bamba, Isaac and Gordon.

``We can be cold, real, real cold defensively,’’ said Gordon, who has stated in the past that winning the Defensive Player of the Year award is a goal of his. ``Knowing that we’ve got a shot-blocker protecting the rim, it gives me the license to pressure people from half court. Some people say, `Drop off, drop off,’’ but, no, I want to be pressuring and setting a defensive tone on the perimeter. Having a shot-blocker behind us, we can be really good on defense.’’

Gordon hopes to chat extensively with new Magic coach Steve Clifford on Tuesday night when the franchise will hold a dinner for the Summer League players and the veterans already on the roster. In addition to Gordon being in Las Vegas to support the Magic Summer League squad, Jonathon Simmons, Terrence Ross and Arron Afflalo were on hand for Monday’s game at Las Vegas’ Thomas and Mack Center.

Gordon said he understands the pressure that comes with landing a lucrative free agent contract. He wants Clifford to know that he is willing to take on more of a leadership burden if needed. That’s something the two of them discussed in early June in Gordon’s hometown of San Jose not long after Clifford was named the Magic’s coach on May 30.

Said Gordon: ``There’s more responsibility and more of a leadership role. It just means that I need to lead myself and lead the team, but we have a bunch of leaders on this team. It’s about everybody pushing in the right direction, coming together and growing together.’’

Sometime between Gordon agreeing to his new contract with the Magic – one that he ultimately signed on July 6 – and getting up shots at UCF’s practice court, he said the magnitude of the moment hit him hard. He thought about the circuitous journey to get him and where he wants his career to head going forward. Ultimately, Gordon wants to be a key difference-maker in helping the Magic be a playoff powerhouse once again.

``That’s the joy of chasing a dream – being rewarded for relentlessly chasing it. And now it’s about winning,’’ he said. ``It’s about turning this into a winning culture. We have all the pieces, we have the organization, we have the players and we have the coach. Now, it’s time.’’

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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