ORLANDO, Fla. — Aaron Gordon was already euphoric to know the Orlando Magic thought highly enough of him Thursday night to make him the fourth player chosen in the draft.
But when he learned from a reporter during a conference call that the Magic pulled off a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers to acquire the draft rights to No. 10 pick Elfrid Payton, his spirits soared to another level.
"Oh my goodness! That’s absolutely incredible," Gordon said upon learning he would be reunited with Payton.
The 6-foot-9 forward from Arizona and the 6-4 guard from Louisiana-Lafayette have been teammates before. They spent part of last summer in Prague representing the United States in the FIBA Under-19 World Championship on a team that also included Marcus Smart, the guard from Oklahoma State who went sixth to the Boston Celtics.
Gordon was the MVP on a team coached by Florida’s Billy Donovan that went 9-0 and defeated Serbia in the title game. Payton averaged 6.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists playing an average of less than 20 minutes a game.
To say Payton left a favorable impression on Gordon would be putting it mildly.
"He was just cooking, just killing it at both ends of the floor, defensively, offensively," Gordon said Friday at a press conference where he, Payton and second-round Roy Devyn Marble were introduced. "I was, ‘Man, this dude is the real deal.’ "
"We both were really competitive, and he knew I could play defense," said Payton, who was named the national defensive player of the year this past season after averaging 2.3 steals a game. "So we got along really well. And when we found out last night that we were on the same team … I knew I was excited."
When the Magic had the No. 2 pick a year ago, they chose guard Victor Oladipo, who wound up leading them in steals as a rookie. The comparable defensive skills of Gordon and Payton registered with Magic general manager Rob Hennigan in the weeks and months leading up to the draft
"As we started to examine the draft and all the players that were available, we wanted some hard-nosed dudes," Hennigan said. "And we want guys who get after people."
Gordon, who was three months away from being born when the Magic reached the NBA Finals for the first time in 1995, comes from a basketball family. His sister Elise played at Harvard, and his older brother Drew was expected to be a late first-round pick two years ago out of New Mexico but ended up going undrafted.
Gordon admitted he "almost lost it a few times" after learning at the draft in New York that he would be going so early.
"My family was just so proud of me," he said. "My brother was proud of me. He didn’t get a chance to get drafted. So to see his younger brother (get drafted) and almost live vicariously through me, it was a big thing."
Although Marble left Iowa as the fifth-leading scorer in that school’s history, the odds of him making the Magic’s roster after being drafted so low are long. And both Gordon and Payton have shortcomings on offense, particularly at the free-throw line.
The Magic finished 25th out of 30 teams in scoring last season and traded their top scorer, Arron Afflalo, to the Denver Nuggets for Evan Fournier and the rights to Marble.
"Every rookie comes into the NBA and has things they have to improve on," Hennigan said. "That’s a constant. It’s how bad you want to improve on it, what’s the commitment you want to make to do it, and how consistent can you be with that type of work ethic."
Chances are many Magic fans were unfamiliar with Payton, who didn’t play at a high-profile school and wasn’t regarded as a lottery pick as recently as a month ago. But one attribute he doesn’t appear to lack is self-confidence.
"If you’re good, they’re going to find you," he said.
Added Hennigan: "Our scouts canvassed the country. They’re not just looking at the Big 10 or the Pac-12 or what have you. They’re looking for good players. It doesn’t matter where you play. The rim is 10 feet high no matter what conference you’re in or what gym you’re in. It’s the game of basketball, and if you can do certain things, you can do certain things."
All three are expected to play in two weeks for the Magic’s entry in the team’s summer league. Gordon created a splash Friday by choosing 00 as his jersey number. He will be their first player in more than a decade to wear that.
"The double zero represents how wide I want the fans’ eyes to be when they see all of us play," he said.