Player Control Foul: Eric Gordon Saga Demonstrates Athletes’ Desire for Control

Eric Gordon wants to play for the Phoenix Suns, and the Suns want Gordon to play for them. That’s why the Suns offered him $58 million over four years to make the Grand Canyon State his new home. Sounds like a win-win, right?

Wrong. The New Orleans Hornets, the team for which Gordon played for during the 2011-12 season, have the right to match the contract offer and keep the shooting guard in the Emerald City. Thus, the Hornets hold the cards in this scenario.

Gordon’s only hope is that New Orleans chooses not to match the contract offer from Phoenix and lets him leave. Gordon was not shy when asked about his feelings regarding leaving New Orleans for Phoenix:

Perhaps the best way to explain this is to try and put it into terms the average person can understand. Pretend you are a recent college graduate with an entry level job. You’ve been at your job for three years, and you find an opening for a new job with another company. They see your resume, think you would be a good fit, and offer you a position with an elevated salary. But rather than give your two weeks to your current boss, you find that your company has the right to match the salary and keep you for at least another year.

Huh?

Such is life in the modern sports world with the advent of restricted free agency. To summarize in short, restricted free agency (RFA) means a player who was drafted in the first round can accept an offer from another team after his fourth year in the league. But the team he was currently with has the opportunity to match the offer and keep him. This rule allows small market teams the opportunity to keep their star players before they can be bid for by bigger market clubs.

On the surface, this rule makes sense, but it definitely puts players in an unusual position. All Gordon wants is to play for the Suns, but the Hornets have the right to keep him. The only solution he saw fit was to publicly chastise New Orleans in the hopes it would scare them away. Call it sports’ version of mudslinging if you will.

Gordon’s words have resonated in the hoops world, but not in an endearing way. Sporting News NBA writer Sean Deveney penned a mock letter that Gordon sent to New Orleans that opens with three powerful words: I hate you.¬†Hornets 247 blogger Joe Gerrity pointed out how foolish Gordon looks for calling out a team that wants to shell out $58 million for him, a season after Gordon only played nine games. Fans who shell out big money to go to games have right to question Gordon’s sense of what is right and wrong.

From Gordon’s perspective, there is some reason to his argument. He wants to choose where he can play and the team he wants to play for also wants him. And though he will become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) next summer — meaning he will be able to sign wherever he wants without another team matching the offer — there is some risk in that scenario. What if Gordon gets injured again and can only play a limited number of games, like he did in 2011-12? Teams are unlikely to give big contracts to a player coming off back-to-back injury seasons, so there is risk in playing even one more year before hitting UFA status. And though Gordon is likely to make a lot of money even if he were to get hurt again, fans have to remember that athletes have a limited number of years to hone their craft before they are finished. If they’re lucky, players make it to about age 40 before their bodies betray them and they have to retire. That’s not the case if you’re an accountant or consultant.

CBS Sports writer Matt Moore perhaps summed up Gordon’s situation best by pointing out that these are the rules Gordon chose to play by.¬†The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement expired after the 2010-11 season, which is what prompted the league’s lockout last winter while a new CBA was agreed to. The NBA Players Association negotiated with the league’s owners, and topics such as restricted free agency were undoubtedly part of the conversation. In the end, the CBA was ratified by the players, and the Gordon has to abide by the rules he agreed to.

Just because Gordon has rules in place for him doesn’t mean he has to stay quiet about them. But anytime someone complains about a $58 million contract being disrespectful, it’s not good for anyone.

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