Of all the New Orleans Pelicans, guard Eric Gordon certainly has something to prove.
To his coaches and teammates. To the fans and the NBA. And to himself.
Gordon played in just 42 games last season, his minutes restricted to about 30 per game. He didn’t play in back-to-back games after he suffered a knee injury a month before training camp that was later diagnosed as a right patella disorder.
He rehabbed in Los Angeles and didn’t return to the team until late December.
In a word, the whole episode was a mess, and the team was forced to adjust to having — or not having — Gordon from game to game.
Fans and media speculated Gordon was less than factual about his injury — or certainly was overprotective of it and didn’t want to be here. It all came on the heels of the team matching a four-year, $58 million contract he signed with the Phoenix Suns.
Now, Gordon is part of a Pelicans team that has received a talent upgrade. It appears he wants to show he’s ready to contribute at a high level.
“I definitely want to show I can play an entire season,” he said. “But I just want to do as much as I can each game as far as minutes and play a good, balanced all-around game.”
After suffering a knee injury that required surgery, Gordon played in just nine games in the 2011-12 season, his first in New Orleans. Starting with his rookie season of 2008-09, the number of games Gordon has played has gone from 78 to 62 to 56 to nine to 42 — all for a player who once harbored aspirations of playing on the U.S. Olympic team.
Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he just wants Gordon on the court fully healthy.
“I just want him playing games,” he said. “When’s he’s healthy, we’re going to be better.
“When he’s not playing, it’s easier for the other team. I want him to be Eric: explosive, attacking the basket, shooting 3s. He’s hawking the ball on defense.”
Gordon had a strong preseason but, with his injury history, everyone is reserving judgment. That includes Gordon, who speaks carefully about what he may be able to do this season, often ending comments with, “So, we’ll see.”
Williams, who dealt with knee injuries in his playing career, said it would be natural for Gordon to go through a period of proving to himself that he can stay healthy.
“The biggest thing when you come back from an injury is mentally getting yourself over the fact that you’re not hurt anymore,” he said. “When you’re hurt, you’re not thinking about the game.”
Even in the games he played last season, Gordon often faded in the second half, particularly the fourth quarter. The injuries, he said, made it impossible to get in NBA shape.
This season, he is noticeably more fit. He weighs 10 pounds less, he said, and looks more trim and muscular. And he remembers those second-half missed shots from last season.
“I’ve been working on my shot, on my 3-pointers,” he said. “I’ve been working on my balance when I’m shooting, and I’m much more fit.”