Exec: Hornets Entertaining Trade Talks For Eric Gordon
Sam Amick, USA TODAY Sports
First things first: New Orleans Hornets shooting guard Eric Gordon is happy because he's playing basketball again.
The right knee that turned him into a spectator for much of the past two seasons is finally holding up, and the 24-year-old who caused so much controversy in the Big Easy over the summer has had an unmistakable impact on this team that has been the worst in the Western Conference without him. Entering Friday's game at Atlanta, the Hornets are 8-26 without Gordon (.235 winning percentage) and 9-7 with him (.562). The recovery process is still ongoing, too, as Gordon – who is averaging 16.4 points a game but is shooting a career-low 39.6% from the field since returning Dec. 29 – continues to rest on the second night of back-to-backs while playing with a minutes limit (35 per).
But the larger question of whether Gordon is happy as a Hornet can't be answered quite so easily.
Seven months after he tried to force his way to Phoenix and made it widely known that he was upset with how the Hornets handled his free agency, Gordon isn't about to declare his long-term love for New Orleans because, well, he has been hurt before. He will focus on the immediate future of helping with his young team's evolution, he says, trying to get from "80%" health, as he deems himself, to 100% while shoring up the conditioning that continues to limit his effectiveness.
Anything after that, as he has learned the hard way, is hard to predict.
"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."
This much seems clear about Gordon from the evidence gleaned at the moment: With the Feb. 21 trade deadline looming, all signs point to him staying with the Hornets at least through this season. According to a person with knowledge of the situation, Gordon has told team officials he is content and no trade demands have been levied by him or his camp. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks. Per the rules of the league's collective bargaining agreement, Gordon has been eligible to be traded since Dec. 15.
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 that 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.
Gordon would have to approve the deal, and no such discussions about where he might want to go have taken place between him and the team. Still, the situation remains fluid.
So what does this all mean for Gordon and the Hornets? That the most fascinating of tainted love affairs likely will continue.
Much to the dismay of most Hornets fans, Gordon's experience with the Los Angeles Clippers has forever colored the way he looks at the NBA. He was more comfortable with loyalties and long-term relationships back before they sent him to New Orleans in December 2011 as part of the Chris Paul trade, when the team that drafted him seventh overall out of Indiana in 2008 swore he wouldn't be traded and the emotional ties he felt to the organization were left in knots when the deal was done.
He is, in that regard, like the scorned lover who's reluctant to trust again. And the events of last summer did little to change that.
If Gordon had his way, the Hornets – who had made it clear he was their centerpiece for the future – would have given him the five-year deal that he couldn't get anywhere else as a restricted free agent rather than making him set his own market value and settle for four years (with a player option for the 2015-16 season). Their decision to take the more prudent, passive route led to his public posturing, as Pelinka released a statement about Gordon's desire to sign with the Suns that was nothing short of a power play.
"Phoenix is just where my heart is now," he said in a statement July 4.
Gordon's letter hardly helped his relationship with Hornets fans, who had dealt with a divorce of their own. As if dealing with Paul's exodus wasn't painful enough, they had been disappointed Gordon was only able to play in nine games in his first season there and had to endure a brutal 21-45 campaign along the way. Yet now that he's playing again, Gordon said the situation has improved.
"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."
In other words, some residue from the summer remains.
"At the end of the day it was all about what's the best situation for me," Gordon said. "I knew the Hornets were going to go through a rebuild, and Phoenix was also going through somewhat of a rebuild, but they were going to have more older guys. I just focused on what I felt was going to be best for me and it was very mind boggling when the Hornets were talking about having me very, very long-term and then you have to sign with another team.
"You can say one thing and do another, but at the end of the day I don't get into it. With the things that I've been in with GMs, where I had one GM (former Clippers GM Neil Olshey, who now is in Portland) say that you'll never get traded and the next thing you know that ends up happening a few days later. And now you have another GM who says you're going to be here long term, so you would expect that to be the longest term that you can for being a part of this team (contractually). And I am here long term, but I could've had an opportunity to have five (years) instead of four."
Gordon added he wished Hornets general manager Dell Demps would have shared his vision for the team before free agency as well. Demps declined comment for this story.
"From my perspective, I didn't know who was going to be on the roster this year," he said. "I didn't know who was going to be on this team at all. For sure (he would've liked to have known). I'm close to whatever players who are out here, especially top players out here. When a GM is looking for a good player to make this team successful, don't you want some of your top guys to vibe off of them? A player is going to have more of a relationship with another player than people in the front office."
While Gordon was more than willing to reflect on the offseason drama, he made it clear he's not stuck in the past. It's all about the here and now, he said, about being healthy and productive again while seeing what this young team that includes top draft pick Anthony Davis (13 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game), forward Ryan Anderson (team-high 16.8 points a game), Gordon and the rest can do.
By all accounts, his rehab stint in Los Angeles was a success. For nearly two months, Gordon spent eight hours a day strengthening his knee at the elite training outfit, Athletes Performance, located inside the Home Depot Center that houses Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy.
Gordon was skeptical of the idea when it was first raised by the Hornets, if only because he already was feeling ostracized and there was a castaway feel to the plan. But the Hornets' motives were pure and mutually beneficial, as they saw it as a chance for him to get the sort of dedicated attention he might not have had while sharing the team's trainers with his teammates.
"That was a very different experience; I've never trained (like that), where you're doing a number of exercises probably for almost an eight-hour timespan," Gordon said. "I'd wake up around 8'o clock, and from 8 to 4 almost every day you're training. And when I'm done training, the next thing you know I've got to watch the Hornets. I watched every game, (to see) what the team does and seeing how I could fit in when I got back playing."
He has received rave reviews since returning, with team officials lauding his leadership and professionalism while being relieved he appears content. For Gordon's part, he's simply glad to be back.
"It was definitely a mental roller coaster for sure," he said. "I didn't have time to train with the guys during training camp, and then I go to L.A. for almost two months to rehab on my knee and I'm trying to get that together. Then it's just trying to find some type of success when you're going through rehab and we're going through a rebuild with this young team. It's tough."
He's playing, though, which means the short-term happiness abounds while some questions about the long-term outlook remain.
"I think we're in a pretty good place as far as the future; definitely the future is bright," Gordon said. "It's all about having the right chemistry and core of guys that's going to be around and making sure (New Orleans) is the right place to be."
http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nb ... Stories%29