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Ball Don't Lie

Eric Gordon is sending the Hornets mixed signals once again

Eric Freeman
Ball Don't Lie

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Eric Gordon gazes upon an uncertain future, or just waits for a play to start (Christian Petersen/ Getty).

Last July, New Orleans Hornets shooting guard Eric Gordon became a restricted free agent and promptly did everything in his power to convince the team not to match a four-year max offer from the Phoenix Suns. In Gordon's view, the Hornets disrespected him by not immediately offering him a five-year extension, despite the fact that it was perfectly logical and expected that they would see what other teams would offer a very good player with a questionable history of injuries.

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Gordon eventually came to terms with this situation and reported to camp with the misguided but impressively optimistic belief that New Orleans would be a playoff team. Unfortunately, his relationship with the organization got complicated soon after, with a knee injury of uncertain severity. It looked like Gordon and the Hornets had serious communication issues.

He and the team resolved that conflict, too, and Gordon has played in 16 games this season — the Hornets have gone 9-7 in those contests — despite struggling with back problems. He certainly appears to be a part of their long-term plans. Yet he seems unhappy once again. From Sam Amick for USA Today:

"You never know what could happen," Gordon told USA TODAY Sports by phone when asked if he now sees New Orleans as the long-term spot for him. "The main thing right now is to really focus on this team. After thinking about my injuries and everything, everything is year by year with me. I have to focus on this year. I don't know what's going to happen. You never know what's going to happen." [...]

His actions are hardly those of a player who wants out before the deadline, especially considering the leverage that he is on the verge of losing, though that they may be the result of his injury limiting the trade possibilities more than it is a sign that he has had a change of heart. Because Gordon signed a four-year, $58 million offer sheet with Phoenix in the summer that was matched by New Orleans, he has the right to veto any trade made this season (he also can't be traded to the Suns). If he were looking to force his way out, in other words, now would be the time to do so -- so long as there was somewhere he wanted to go where the feeling was mutual.

One rival executive said that although New Orleans is not actively shopping Gordon, the team has shown a willingness to engage in talks about him, and it's known agent Rob Pelinka is more than open to the idea of a trade for his client. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because the talks were supposed to remain confidential. [...]

"When I came back, and since we've been playing and winning games, there's definitely a change (in how the fans are treating him)," Gordon said. "I remember from this past summer to about a month or so ago, where I'd hear fans saying, 'Do you really want to be here? I don't think you want to be here.'

"But at the end of the day, you have to understand the NBA is nothing but a business. I've seen guys in the past few years coming and going here – a lot of good guys. Chris Paul, David West. You've had a lot of prominent players come through here and now they're somewhere else. You never know what could happen here."

[Also: Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard were skeptical of their union]

In short, Gordon isn't necessarily upset to play in New Orleans but understands that the NBA is the kind of league where a trade can change an athlete's life in a manner of hours. All Gordon's really saying is that he's prepared for that possibility.

Unfortunately, an accurate depiction of a situation is not necessarily the best thing for Gordon's career in both the short and long terms. While it's true that trades and general changes are part of NBA life, it's also the case that any business — particularly one in which a small group of people work very closely with each other — succeeds for reasons other than the employees' fulfilling the basic responsibilities of a job. Camaraderie and morale matter a lot. If a high-profile, very important employee seems less-than-thrilled about the facts of the job, then the whole organization will suffer for it. Every player on a team doesn't have to get along splendidly, but they do need to develop shared goals and a unified purpose. If one of the team's most important players is overly concerned with even the possibility of his next stop, it will be considerably harder to meet those goals.

Gordon's not in an easy situation, and it absolutely makes sense that he would feel uncertain of his future after his experience being traded from the Clippers. But acknowledging the facts of NBA business and committing to an organization aren't mutually exclusive propositions. In fact, a professional athlete must understand that these superficially contradictory ideas can coexist in order to stay sane.

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Frankly, Gordon doesn't seem too far away from realizing this issue — his statements about the direction of the Hornets are pretty positive. His only mistake is in continuing to make his less enthusiastic proclamations public. He's not wrong, or even malicious. He's just being a little impractical.

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