The indications that Gordon has become a star are there. What is far less clear is how Orlando puts a championship team around him, though Clifford effusively endorsed him as the model player of that future roster.
“He fits with what wins in the N.B.A. right now,” Clifford said. “He’s 23, and he’s made terrific gains, already, this year.”
Clifford is a capable coach, in his first season with Orlando. But the roster looks less like a plan and more like a series of one-off moves. Vucevic is an excellent, traditional center, but his presence has kept Gordon, along with young bigs Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac, from getting significant time developing as the kind of stretch 5s most teams around the league deploy.
Gordon is picked to run the offense, and does so effectively — his assist percentage of 16.4 is a career-high — but that is in part because Orlando lacks a true starting point guard. Markelle Fultz may be the answer long-term, but whether the embattled former Philadelphia 76ers guard even plays this season remains a mystery.
Gordon’s next step, per Clifford, needs to be the role of go-to scorer down the stretch of games, which Gordon agrees with. Will it happen?
“Well, we’ll see,” Clifford said. “I mean, that’s what it’s all about. We’ll see.”
But he needs help getting to those late-game situations with a chance to win it. Still, as Gordon eases into superstardom in the relative obscurity of Orlando’s slow rise in the East, he often uses visualization to help motivate himself, closing his eyes and picturing what a championship for the only franchise he’s ever known would look like.
He said it gets hard to see it sometimes, pointing out that “a lot of things have to go right” even as he said he was sure it will.
“Of course,” Gordon said, pulling on his pants gingerly, navigating his sore back.
Toppling the Warriors last week showed Gordon just may be right. Losing to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday night, though, showed how far the Magic have to go.