Suns lose Gordon to Hornets; on to Plan B

Suns lose Gordon to Hornets; on to Plan B

Published Jul. 14, 2012 3:31 p.m. ET

His heart still may be lingering in Phoenix, but Eric Gordon's contractual future is ready for another tour of New Orleans.
In one of the least surprising NBA developments of July, the Hornets on Saturday matched an offer sheet the 23-year-old shooting guard agreed to with the Suns last week and signed on Wednesday.
Even though a bum knee limited Gordon to nine games last season, the four-year, $58 million deal was the maximum the Suns were allowed to bestow upon Gordon.
The Hornets, who this week moved Jarrett Jack to Golden State and all but declared Austin Rivers their next point guard, weren't deterred by Gordon's pledge of allegiance to the Suns. Even though coach Monty Williams went on record Friday as insisting his team only wanted players who wanted to be in New Orleans, the Hornets now have pushed the Suns on to Plan B.
According to President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby, the Suns have been prepared for this eventuality.
"We have a Plan B," Babby said earlier this week. "We have a Plan B1, a Plan B2 and a Plan B3. We'll see how it plays out. If they (Hornets) choose to exercise their rights, we'll plan to go in another direction.
"There'll still be good alternatives for us this summer."
According to the Twitter account of the unrestricted-free-agent shooting guard in question, O.J. Mayo seems to be Plan B1. Mayo was in town Friday for a visit with Babby and other members of the franchise's brain trust.
Cast into the unrestricted realm when the Memphis Grizzlies pulled his qualifying offer, Mayo is a smooth, versatile 6-foot-4 performer who averaged 12.6 points per game (on 41-percent shooting) this past season. He can run the offense in a pinch, has deep shooting range, the ability to get to the cup, and moves his feet well as an on-ball defender.
"I like him ... I like him a lot," a personnel executive who works for another NBA team told "Even back to high school. He handled himself like a pro."
Well, his controversial high school and club-circuit history suggests those around Mayo handled O.J. like a pro as well. After that odyssey -- followed by one season at USC -- Mayo was selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves with the third pick in the 2008 NBA draft and traded to Memphis for the rights to Kevin Love.

He averaged 18.5 points per game in 38 minutes as a rookie, knocked in one point fewer over similar minutes the following season and then watched his playing time dip. With the Grizzlies committed to greater court time for defensive-minded Tony Allen, Mayo became an off-the-bench sniper, gunning in 11.3 points (in 26 minutes per game) during his third season and finishing at the aforementioned 12.6 for the same amount of playing time this year.

His Memphis role will be filled -- in a more affordable style -- by former St. Mary's High and University of Arizona star Jerryd Bayless.

With the Grizzlies' payroll going heavy on its front court starters and point guard Mike Conley, Mayo has been the focus of several reported traded attempts over the past two seasons. Memphis thought it had him moved to the Indiana Pacers in 2011, but the deal was posted after the expiration of the trade deadline.

According to reports, the Pacers have been interested in Mayo as a free agent this summer, but have been scared off by the price tag.

"I really don't see it as them (Grizzlies) wanting to get rid of him," our insider said. "They just didn't think they could afford him. I've heard they're looking somewhere in the $7- to-$8 million range per season.

For a team on the verge of contending, that's not out of the question. It's kind of high, but you could see it happening.

"But for a team like the Suns, it may not make much sense to go that high. I mean, he's not going to make that much difference in their team and a contract like that could be really, really hard to trade."

A team like the Suns, if you believe recent public declarations by Babby and general manager Lance Blanks, now is looking to use free agency and the draft to become younger. With that in mind, it also is prepared for what could be "tough times." It should be noted that the big swing for Gordon -- teaming up with Marcin Gortat, Jared Dudley and the team's other free-agent movers -- may have kept the Suns in the hunt for a Western Conference playoff spot.
If nothing else, gunning for Gordon demonstrated (to some fans) the commitment to making bold moves in their reconstruction project.
Although some league watchdogs believe Mayo may be only a slight step down from Gordon (who was going to make $14.5 million per season in Phoenix), paying what reportedly is O.J.'s going rate may greatly reduce the flexibility Babby had taken pride in creating. Sure, Gordon would have done that and more, but Gordon brings the perception of potential stardom.
"Mayo could get there (Phoenix) and play in that system and really be outstanding," the personnel executive said. "He's really good. But he makes you a little small at the two guard spot and could help them win just enough more games to really hurt the draft position next season."
It should be noted that even though Mayo doesn't spend a lot of time jumping, he did record the best one-step vertical (42 inches) at the 2008 Draft Combine. He's also strong enough to survive while battling on the block in post-up situations.
As for next year, the free-agent yield may not make saving cap space that important. Dwight Howard and Chris Paul are the unrestricted headliners, but neither (at this point) figure to have Phoenix on a short list of potential destinations. The Thunder's James Harden would draw interest from Suns fans, but the former Arizona State star is unlikely to reach next July without signing a healthy extension.
Scouts are even less impressed by the potential 2013 draft class, rendering the lose-like-mad strategy a bit risky, too.
For the record, the current free-agent market does include two guard Courtney Lee (Houston Rockets), who reportedly has been asking for more loot than teams are willing to spend for a strong defender who made 40 percent of his 3-point attempts this season. For reasonable money, he'd be a solid long-range plan for the Suns (with more value off the bench) if they aren't willing to bite on Mayo's price tag.
With Gordon out of the picture, the Suns now can sign Goran Dragic and Michael Beasley. And they certainly can afford Mayo. It's just a question of spending on him now or hoping to do better in the future. They also have an amnesty option and could turn to the same short-term perimeter solutions -- Shannon Brown, Michael Redd, Grant Hill -- that helped them chase the final playoff spot in 2012.
Another temp-type shooting guard still on the free-agent board is former lottery pick Randy Foye, who drilled 38.6 percent of his 3s for the Clippers this season.