At 12:01 a.m. Eastern on Sunday, Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon will experience something he never experienced during his four NBA seasons.
He'll become a restricted free agent.
The Magic will hold an advantage throughout the process. Because Gordon's free agency is restricted, the Magic will have the right to match any offer sheet Gordon might sign with another team.
Or Gordon and the Magic could reach an agreement on their own.
"Obviously, I've got to talk to other teams," Gordon said Thursday in a telephone interview with the Orlando Sentinel. "I've got to do the due diligence. But we'll talk to the Magic, and I do believe that they're going to offer me something fair. And, hopefully, we can go from there. But I have to do the due diligence and see what's going to be the best fit for myself."
When the Magic completed their 2017-18 season, Gordon was asked what his ideal contract would look like. He responded that an ideal contract would be a "max" contract from the Magic — a contract that features maximum annual salaries as laid out in the collective bargaining agreement.
Under the current projection for the 2018-19 NBA salary cap, a max deal for Gordon would begin at an annual salary of $25.3 million.
In a four-year deal, a max contract with Orlando would include annual raises of eight percent and be worth a total of $114 million. In a five-year deal, a max contract with Orlando would include eight percent annual raises and would be worth a total of $148 million.
If Gordon signs with another team, his contact could not exceed four years and would be limited to five percent annual raises.
The Magic may be in no hurry to reach an agreement with Gordon immediately after free agency begins. There will be a money crunch in the NBA this summer, and that could inhibit Gordon's ability to command his hoped-for salary. According to the sports website The Athletic, only nine teams figure to have significant cap space at their disposal this summer — a group that includes the Philadelphia 76ers, Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks.
The outcome for Gordon's free agency, of course, is uncertain. On one hand, you can argue that Gordon, who is only 22 years old, has a vast reservoir of untapped potential. On the other hand, the Magic have posted losing records in every year of Gordon's career, never coming close to reaching the playoffs.
"We've worked hard to establish a relationship with Aaron and learn him and he learn us," Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman told the Sentinel. "And, obviously, a big part of this is just having relationships with his representatives and just having discussions with him as we move forward and start to see if there's a middle ground that we can reach and strike a deal. And we're hopeful that we can do that."
Gordon enjoyed his best individual year as a professional this past season, averaging career bests of 17.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. After a torrid start shooting the 3 ball, he finished shooting a career-high 33.6 percent from beyond the arc for the season.
Gordon played in just 58 of Orlando's 82 games. On two separate occasions, he missed time with concussions.
The hope is he can stay healthy and, if he re-signs with the Magic, that new coach Steve Clifford and Clifford's new coaching staff would help Gordon maximize his talents.
Clifford would be Gordon's fifth head coach with the Magic.
Clifford and Gordon didn't know each other when the team hired Clifford on May 29. But Clifford soon traveled to Gordon's hometown of San Jose, Calif., and spent time with Gordon.
The fact that Clifford made the effort to fly cross-country to visit — instead of just calling on the phone — made a positive impression on Gordon.
"In five coaches," Gordon said, "he was the only one to do that, and that alone built respect and made me want to run through a wall for him. These coaches want you to have respect for them and play your heart out for them, but a lot of them don't take the necessary steps you need for your players to do that for you. And Steve did that from the jump, and I've got all the respect for him.
"It was great," Gordon added. "There was a hell of an energy. I really liked the vibe. Steve made the game difficult for me when I was playing against him when he was with Charlotte. He made the game difficult for me personally. So I know that he can help my game expand and excel. It really, really felt like it was a good fit."
Whether that fit actually turns into a player-coach relationship will depend on whether Gordon re-signs with the Orlando.
That answer will be determined after free agency begins.
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