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Eric Gordon benched following confrontation with coach Monty Williams, may be traded this summer

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Eric Gordon may never get to wear a New Orleans Pelicans jersey (Getty Images)

To call Eric Gordon’s 2012-13 an abject disaster may be overstating things, but it’s not far off. New Orleans has played reasonably well since Gordon returned to the squad in late December, running up a 20-27 record with a roster full of young contributors in a rebuilding season. Still, from all appearances it looks as if Gordon hasn’t truly embraced his team, the expected end result following a 2012 offseason that saw the 24-year-old guard profess to prefer to sign with the Phoenix Suns as a restricted free agent.

New Orleans, much to Eric’s dismay, matched Phoenix’s terms, bringing him back to NOLA despite going on record as saying he’d be “disappointed” if he returned to the Hornets. Knee injuries and a non-committal look toward his future in Louisiana followed, leading up to a shouting match between Gordon and coach Monty Williams in Friday night’s Hornets loss to the Utah Jazz. From NBA.com:

Hornets coach Monty Williams and point guard Eric Gordon got into a screaming match during a timeout with 8:37 left in the third quarter. Millsap had just scored on a putback to put Utah ahead 55-47 and New Orleans called a timeout. Williams was visibly agitated, yelling in Gordon's direction. He had to be held back by assistant coach Randy Ayers after Gordon hollered back at him, and when the team went to the sidelines, Williams continued screaming at Gordon. Gordon, the team's leading scorer, did not return to the game after the confrontation.

Gordon had been playing listless ball prior to the confrontation, taking just three shots while his Hornets played out the string on the road in Utah. He’s done his job as the team’s leading scorer this season, putting up 16.5 points per game in just 29 minutes a contest, sharing the backcourt with a (very good) point guard in Greivis Vasquez who dominates the ball, but Gordon has shot just 40 percent on the season. Worse, because he doesn’t really contribute much in any other area, he hardly appears worth the more-than $13.6 million he’s being paid this season.

This is why, according to the Times-Picayune’s John Reid, Gordon should expect to see his name on the figurative trade block this offseason:

A majority of fans in New Orleans have not forgotten the comments Gordon made last summer after he became a restricted free agent and agreed to a four-year, $58 million offer sheet with the Suns, which the Hornets matched even though Gordon said his "heart was in Phoenix."

The Hornets were unable to pull off a trade involving Gordon before the February trade deadline, but the franchise is still likely to remain open to trading him after this season ends, according to sources Saturday.

This is a team that should be open to trading Gordon, even if he weren’t clashing with the coaching staff.

Gordon, who returned as a starter on Sunday and scored 17 points on 4 for 11 shooting in a win over the Phoenix Suns, was likely brought back to New Orleans as an asset, and little else. The team knew he wanted to play for the Suns, but you don’t let a former lottery pick (and the centerpiece of a deal that sent Chris Paul away from New Orleans) go for nothing, even if he may not be the sort of “four-year, $58 million” player Phoenix envisioned him as.

(The Suns' front office envisions quite a few things that routinely seem out of step, it should be noted.)

The Hornets can’t deal Gordon to the Suns until the summer, so they likely kept Gordon on in 2012-13 just to have something to rely on scoring-wise during a rebuilding season, which completely makes sense. Of course, it “completely makes sense” if the Hornets do chase down a trade for better-fitting assets this summer, so as to avoid Gordon ambling his way through 2013-14 in New Orleans.

With Gordon’s lost year, though, has the move backfired for NOLA? Did they diminish Gordon’s value in the trade market by bringing him back?

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been so high to begin with. After all, it was the Suns that set the crazy terms here. Don’t forget that.

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Sigh. (Getty Images)

Gordon is an undersized shooting guard that doesn’t offer much in terms of defense, rebounding, or passing. What he can do, as long as the NBA returns to its pre-2012 level of cracking down on hand-checking, is score in bunches. Eric’s shooting percentages are never going to approach LeBron James’ levels because of his size and position, but if he is going to earn the rest of the three years and more than $44 million left on his deal, he’ll have to start scoring in more efficient ways. Shooting 40 percent from the field, making just a third of his 3-pointers and shooting fewer free throws per minute this year than the year before just won’t cut it.

Eric’s return to New Orleans, frankly, was unfair on a number of levels. He clearly didn’t want to play for the team, and he never asked to be a centerpiece of sorts in the wake of the Chris Paul trade.

What Gordon could have done to avoid this, though, was accept New Orleans’ qualifying offer instead of signing with Phoenix. It’s true that he would have had to play in New Orleans in 2012-13 for far less money, but he also would have been an unrestricted free agent this summer (in an offseason with a thin free-agent class and plenty of teams with cap space), and not a potential victim of what could be a dwindling trade market for a player that has disappointed in his fifth NBA season.

Such is the fallout when NBA teams actually do the smart thing, cap-wise, and let players create their own value on the restricted free agent market. There’s always a good chance a huge set of bad vibes, to put it mildly, could result.

Plenty of bad vibes in New Orleans, currently. Vibes that could get even worse should the Hornets fail to find value to their liking in a deal involving Gordon this summer. Because the NBA isn’t exactly falling over itself to pay more than $44 million over the next three years for an undersized shooting guard who isn’t shooting all that well.

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