Hornets happy to have Gordon back, No. 1 pick Davis ready
You can’t skip steps, and I’m well aware of that and I want our guys to understand we have a lot of work to do.” MONTY WILLIAMS, New Orleans Hornets coach
WESTWEGO — Anthony Davis joked with camera operators and teammates, leaving little doubt he was as relaxed and ready to enjoy his NBA debut as he claimed to be.
Of course, he’ll have more fun if the New Orleans Hornets win, and that may hinge as much on the health of Eric Gordon’s surgically repaired right knee as anything else.
While Davis’ presence infused the Hornets’ annual media day on Monday with optimism, uncertainty about Gordon’s health brought with it an undercurrent of anxiety on the eve of training camp.
The Hornets open preseason play against the Orlando Magic on Sunday in Mexico City.
Gordon, retained by the Hornets at the cost of a four-year, $58 million contract, will be limited during training camp because of recurring pain in his knee during voluntary offseason workouts.
However, Gordon stressed that he has not had swelling and that he and the team simply agreed that precautionary rest and treatment gave him the best chance to be fresh for the regular season.
“It’s going to be a slow process right now, and I’m just ready to build it back up to where I can be ready to play before the season starts,” Gordon said.
Coach Monty Williams added that the team was taking a cautious approach because the Hornets want to take every last measure to ensure Gordon is as healthy as possible for the NBA’s grueling 82-game regular season.
“He’s a big part of what we do, and I’m glad we re-signed him,” Williams said.
Gordon was limited to nine games last season because of his knee. However, he averaged a team-high 20.6 points, and New Orleans was 6-3 when he played.
If Gordon is healthy when it counts, he’ll be the face of a young roster that has given the Hornets the look of a franchise full of promise.
Either way, the Hornets still expect to be an interesting team to watch with the 6-foot-11 Davis on the floor. Gordon said Davis proved his ability to block the shots of even savvy veterans during offseason workouts, as well as run the floor better than the average big man.
Davis said recording promotional videos Monday while wearing his No. 23 jersey drove home that his NBA dream is really beginning, and he added he is going to enjoy the hype that comes with being a top draft pick and work hard to make the Hornets winners again.
“You can’t stress out about it. You’ve got to have fun with it, and if you do it makes the transition a lot smoother,” Davis said. “I just have to be confident in myself and my game and confident in my teammates and coaching staff, knowing they’re going to help me.”
Williams has said Gordon will be the face of the franchise because it is unfair to put pressure on a rookie who has so much to learn. Still, Davis said he “most definitely” would embrace a leadership role as soon as the coaching staff thinks he’s ready.
“It’s a tough challenge and tough role, but I think I can fill that role,” Davis said. “We’ve got other guys who can take on that role as well, but if coach comes to me and says, ‘I need you to be a leader on this team,’ I won’t shy away from it.”
Davis will be in the frontcourt along with new acquisitions Robin Lopez and Ryan Anderson, with the 7-foot Lopez playing center and the 6-10 Anderson spreading defenses with his 3-point shooting acumen.
Then there is 10th overall draft pick Austin Rivers, a former Duke shooting guard who will try to learn to play point guard in the NBA so he can be paired with Gordon.
Williams said Rivers could develop into a “new-age guard that can play both positions (point guard and shooting guard) every night and flourish in that.”
The Hornets see Gordon in the same mold already. The big question is how two players in the backcourt with such similar skills will mesh.
“Because we can both do multiple things we can both play at the same time,” Rivers said. “Eric’s a guy I’m excited to play with because I’m going to get better just playing with him or against him at practice. ... It’s going to be fun. It’s going to make my job a lot easier.”
With so much youth on his team, Williams is bullish on the future but trying to temper expectations for this season, noting, “You can’t skip steps, and I’m well aware of that and I want our guys to understand we have a lot of work to do.”
Still, the reasons for optimism range from the youth and talent on the roster to the stability that comes with the new ownership of New Orleans native Tom Benson, who also owns the NFL’s Saints
While Benson was posing for photos with players on his new team, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, now also serving as an executive vice president for both the Saints and Hornets, sat on roll-out bleachers and took in the scene.
“That’s always important with ownership, is you have an ownership that’s engaged,” said Loomis, who is suspended from his Saints duties for the first half of this season because of the NFL’s bounty investigation, but is permitted to maintain his role as a Hornets executive.
“I think the arrow’s up here,” Loomis said. “Listen, it helps that you win the (NBA draft) lottery and you get the first pick in the draft. Let’s not kid ourselves.”
Loomis said he is impressed with Williams and Hornets general manager Dell Demps, who were retained when Benson bought the club, and added that Benson, too, is realistic about the Hornets’ immediate prospects on the court.
“I know Mr. B just wants to be able to give these guys the resources and the tools they need to be able to be successful,” Loomis said.
“He knows the process you have to go through to be successful, and we’re at the early stages of that here.”