LAS VEGAS – The only aspect that frustrated Eric Gordon about his name in speculation across the NBA wasn’t the notion the New Orleans Pelicans had been shopping him. It was his body that angered him and what he knew had placed him in that spot. Gordon was once a prized asset, acquired in the Chris Paul trade, and he understands more than anything that playing – and producing – creates a leader within a team.
Still, Gordon has used the summer league to mend fences, making conversation with Pelicans rookies, Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and team officials. He’s made strong progress in rehabilitating his body in Los Angeles after his right knee bothered him last season and a left ankle procedure in May, and the 24-year-old entered the summer with a goal: Play a complete season in 2013-14. No missed games, no more getting lost within the organization.
“Next season is going to be high expectations for me, starting the season 100 percent and playing well,” Gordon told RealGM on Wednesday. “Not being able to show all my talent with the games that I’ve been missing, it was frustrating hearing rumor at times. But whatever, I’m going to make the most of my situation, whether I’m with the Pelicans or elsewhere.
“It’s good that I’m here and the team still trusts me.”
So much of the former divide between Gordon and New Orleans had stemmed from his desire to join the Phoenix Suns last summer, and Gordon doesn’t remember disappointment over how he handled that free agent summer, but an understanding he was too invested emotionally.
He imagined himself in a Phoenix jersey, professing a passion to play for the Suns and a desire to leave New Orleans. Looking back, Gordon understands he left the Suns’ recruitment, their $58 million contract offer sheet, strikingly clouded to ultimately return when New Orleans matched.
“You can’t regret anything like that because it’s something that I said in the past and I moved on from it,” Gordon said. “I thought that since they’re the ones giving me the offer sheet, mixed emotions come in.
“I didn’t really mean it, but … stuff like that, emotions came into play.”
For Gordon, there has to be part of him believing he could have handled last offseason a lot better, giving him room for a crisp welcome back when the Pelicans wanted his return. One year later, Jeff Teague laid out an approach to restricted free agency that sends him back to the Atlanta Hawks without scrutiny and distaste. Add the fact Gordon has failed to stay on the court consistently, and he’s become an easy target now.
The Pelicans’ backcourt had begun to get a bit crowded when they traded for Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans, and Austin Rivers has showed an elevated poise with his game in summer league. And still, Gordon told RealGM that Pelicans management has laid out that the organization views him within the long-term plan, a major part of the new core.
“Yeah, yeah they have,” Gordon said. “But at the end of the day, it’s all about playing and I just got to play and see how far we can go each year. We’re looking pretty good because we have a lot of good guards, and we’re looking forward to getting better toward the future. I definitely want to grow toward that.”
Skill and talent, scoring and athleticism have never been issues for Gordon. Health has. He knows that, and just three years ago it seemed he was on the cusp of the All-Star game. As a growing leader, Gordon has tried to further gain a rapport with Davis and Anderson during summer league.
Never has training camp loomed over Gordon like this, an upcoming season filled with expectations to stay healthy and gel with an improved roster.
“It’s all about getting chemistry right,” Gordon said. “The West is not some easy conference, but we can do very good things …”
Saying an “if” appeared inevitable now, but he paused and let out: “It all starts having us all together for a while.”
This is the difference of one year for Eric Gordon, from imagining his basketball life with the Suns to seeking a chance to prove himself again for New Orleans. Mostly, the inability to stay on the court pushes him. Gordon has worked to mend relationships in this summer league, filling in for lost time rehabbing a season ago, and the step beyond supporting and talking hits him now: Be reliable in the way the Pelicans most need out of their best asset from the Paul deal, on the court producing.