As the Pelicans gear up for training camp, Eric Gordon tries to get healthy, stay healthy and quiet skeptical fans
It appeared to be an “uh-oh” moment during the New Orleans Pelicans’ Media Day on Monday at the team’s spanking new practice facility.
Shooting guard Eric Gordon said he has “a little bit of limitations” when asked about the status of his ankle and knee heading into the start of training camp. Gordon played in just 40 games because of a knee injury last season, and as a precaution he didn’t play back-to-back games. That came on the heels of playing just nine games during the 2011-12 season, his first in New Orleans.
And on May 10, he had surgery to remove particles from his right ankle.
Gordon clarified himself a minute later about “limitations” as this season unfolds.
“I didn’t mean there would be limitations, but a slow build-up,” he said.
Gordon, who is in the second year of a four-year, $58 million contract, said he has worked hard preparing for this season, including basketball drills. However, while his teammates talk glowingly of having been together the past few months, playing pickup games, spending time together and building chemistry, Gordon joined them two weeks ago, he said.
“The only thing I haven’t done is play five-on-five basketball,” he said. “But my ankle, my knee feels fine. There just needs to be some building up.”
He said he is eager to scrimmage and compete, and that the talent the team has acquired has him excited. Gordon, who averaged 17.0 points last season, said this is the healthiest he has been since joining New Orleans’ NBA team, and that he expects to play a full season.
“I look forward to the season, and not to worry about (injuries),” he said. “I’ve done all the running. ... It’s time for me to progress as this training camp goes on, because it’s different from what I’ve been doing this summer to what we’ll be doing in training camp.”
Coach Monty Williams said the team again will take its time with Gordon, who showed flashes of being the talented young player obtained in the Chris Paul trade before the start of the 2011-12 season.
“Eric certainly has the ability to be a guy who can play on both ends of the floor, and we’ve tried to be smart with him this summer,” Williams said. “We just got clearance from his doctor in (Los Angeles) and our doctors, so he’s going to be ready to get going here. He did a lot of conditioning with the team but didn’t get total clearance until this past week.”
If the opening of training camp becomes much the same as last season, the Pelicans certainly have the ability to replace Gordon — namely in Tyreke Evans, who was obtained from Sacramento and signed a four-year, $44 million contract. However, Williams sounded as though he is more interested in seeing Gordon with the rebuilt Pelicans.
“He has the ability to score the ball, he can defend his position,” Williams said. “His first game with us, he hit the game-winning shot, so we know he can do that. Now we feel he has some other guys on the team ... who have been in games before who can grow with him.”
Still, there’s been heavy speculation that Gordon will be traded, with Evans and point guard Jrue Holiday, obtained from the Philadelphia 76ers in a draft-day trade, both making $11 million per year. For Gordon to be traded, NBA teams need to see that he is healthy and able to contribute.
Gordon, though, like Williams, said he’d prefer to remain with his new teammates and feels the Pelicans have a good chance to make the playoffs.
“If we do well, why would you want to get rid of anybody?” he said. “It’s about what this team does. Although we’re a young team, we have a lot of guys who have been around the league a while. It’s experience and the talent level.”
Gordon said his goal this season is to show what kind of player he can be when he’s healthy. One of he positives he took from last year’s season — in which he endured the wrath of fans who felt he didn’t want to be here — is that at times he was able to show his abilities, particularly near the end of the season.
“The only frustrating part since I’ve been down here is dealing with the injuries,” he said. “That’s the main thing. I know what I can do, and this team knows what I can do. Now, I’ve finally get a chance to make it consistent.”