For the New Orleans Hornets, there's nothing but pride left to play for this season. Coach Monty Williams' team stands at 12-37, the second-worst record in the NBA, having lost seven of its last 10 and 14 of its last 20 with a 29th-ranked offense that has averaged less than a point per possession on the year. With a month left in the regular season and no chance at a playoff berth, it would be perfectly understandable if the Hornets just closed up shop, played out the string and rolled up as many losses as possible to keep their ping-pong-ball count high.
So, naturally, they're expected to bring back long-lost guard Eric Gordon, who was expected to be the team's offensive centerpiece before missing all but two games with a right knee injury, to give the team a shot in the arm for the stretch run. Wait, what?
Word of Gordon's possible return started to spread Monday after Monty Williams said the injured shooting guard "could be back on the floor in 'five days to a week,'" according to Hornets.com's Jim Eichenhofer. The talk solidified Tuesday, when Gordon was slated to go through a full practice that Jimmy Smith of the New Orleans Times-Picayune called the "final step in [Gordon's] rehabilitation process" after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery on Valentine's Day:
"I didn't do anything for about 2 1/2, almost three weeks," Gordon said. "Next thing you know, I started lifting on it, and then started running [...] I've had no problems cutting, jumping, and now it's just all about having that comfort level and being ready for contact."
I'm sure Hornets fans would have liked to see Gordon back on the floor a lot sooner, especially as they've watched the team sink to the very bottom of the Western Conference and struggle mightily to score points, but you can't really blame Gordon for wanting to feel as comfortable as possible and get as close as he can to certainty that he's ready for contact. Remember, back when this injury-plagued season started, Gordon's right knee issues were characterized as soreness; later, after missing four of the Hornets' first five games and aggravating the injury in a Jan. 4, 2012 affair against the Philadelphia 76ers, it was said that he had a "bone bruise."
For the next six weeks, he sat with that "bone bruise," which wound up being a phenomenal misdiagnosis of a more significant knee problem requiring a procedure to remove cartilage and clean out debris that would necessitate nearly two months of rehab. So, yeah — taking your time and doing it right this time around makes an awful lot of sense, especially when you're a 23-year-old who's just undergone his first surgery and is staring down restricted free agency this summer.
Of course, he didn't have to have that last bit of uncertainty hanging over his head. Gordon's facing RFA status because he declined to sign a four-year, $50 million extension with New Orleans back in January, thinking he could find something more lucrative and more in line with the big-money deals fellow 2008 draftees Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love got from the Oklahoma City Thunder and Minnesota Timberwolves, respectively, earlier this season.
Hindsight being 20/20, it's easy now to view Gordon's decision as pound-foolish, especially after he's missed 47 games and fans seem to have no recollection of how good he actually is — as proof, check out the baffled public reaction to his new Champs Sports/adidas commercial. He actually is really good, though; now, he's got to prove it.
Coming off the first serious knee injury of his career, Gordon must show that he can still be the same explosive scorer who averaged 21.3 points per 36 minutes as a 22-year-old. He has to show that he can still space defenses with a sharp 3-point stroke and take advantage of reckless closeouts to make bowling ball drives to the rim, and that he remains the kind of in-traffic finisher who can give good bigs fits by both taking and delivering punishment at the basket.
He's got to get out on the floor if he wants to spark bidding interest for his services this offseason — not only from the 29 other teams in the NBA, but from the Hornets themselves; as coach Williams told the Times-Picayune's Smith the team would "need more than 10 or 12 games to get a good look at somebody" who'd require "the kind of investment [the Hornets are] talking about making" in Gordon. (Including Wednesday night's meeting with the Golden State Warriors, the Hornets have 17 games left on the schedule.)
So it's a pretty big month for Eric Gordon. Given how precarious the team's roster situation looks for 2012-13 and beyond (which we looked at before the trade deadline), and how important it is for Williams and GM Dell Demps to decide whether they think Gordon's a legitimate building block moving forward, it's a pretty big month for the Hornets, too. The real winners here, at long last, look to be Hornets fans — at least they'll have something worth keeping an eye on.
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