Way back in the long ago of December, the New Orleans Hornets and their NBA guardians took it upon themselves to get the best possible trade for Chris Paul. After at least one veto and another peculiar situation, they settled on the Los Angeles Clippers' offer of young players and picks, hoping to get a team that could rebuild while also staying competitive and exciting enough to draw fans.
Unfortunately, the competitive part of that equation hasn't come to pass, in large part because top trade piece and budding star Eric Gordon has missed all but two of the Hornets' 53 games with a knee injury. However, he's finally set to come back for Wednesday's home game against the Denver Nuggets. From Jimmy Smith of the New Orleans Times-Picayune (via PBT):
"I'm looking forward to playing (Wednesday); that's what I'm looking for," Gordon said Tuesday following a physical practice session at the Alario Center. "For sure. It's an overall decison. Like I've told a lot of people. I practiced today. I feel fine, and I'm ready to move forward into playing." [...]
Hornets Coach Monty Williams was being more cautious in his plans regarding Gordon following the workout.
"We'll see; he had a good practice today, and I hate to give you guys bad information, but he looked good in practice," Williams said. "It' s always the next day, whether or not he feels sore. But he's been feeling good after his workouts. Today was the first time he got up and down.
The Hornets have pretty obviously missed Gordon this season, although it's hard to know how much of a difference he would've made on a team with such a dearth of talent. Yet, as our Dan Devine noted last week, this decision isn't so much about this season as Gordon's future, whether with the Hornets or not. As a restricted free agent, Gordon wants to prove that he's worthy of something close to a maximum contract before the end of the season. As a rebuilding team with an uncertain financial future, the Hornets need to know if Gordon fits into their long-term plans at such a high rate. It might be a better move to let another team pay him.
That could mean that Gordon leaves after only a few games in teal and gold, which would make the Chris Paul trade a little lopsided on the basis of talent exchanged. But that only matters if the trade is considered as a straight swap instead of an opportunity for the Hornets to remake their team in whichever way they chose. In trading Paul, they sought multiple options, not some mirage of equal value. Teams can only down after trading a superstar, and while the Hornets certainly want to stay competitive they also have to get serious about what might happen to them in the future. Keeping Gordon when it's not financially smart or trying to be mediocre instead of terrible displays no long-term vision. If they lose him this summer, it'd be a shame but not the end of the world. They'd just assess their multiple options and move on from there.
A player is only valuable in the right context, and Gordon might not be a fit for the Hornets moving forward. If not, they won't have made a bad trade with the Clippers — they'll just have tried to find a new star without risking much beyond this season. There might be no immediate returns, but that's fine when the alternative is lowering their developmental ceiling.