Why It's Good That New Orleans Hornets Kept Eric Gordon

Dave Leonardis@@FrontPageDaveContributor IIIFebruary 25, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 08:  Eric Gordon #10 of the New Orleans Hornets drives past Josh Smith #5 of the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on February 8, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The New Orleans Hornets made the right decision by opting not to deal shooting guard Eric Gordon at the trading deadline. With a troublesome knee and subpar shooting percentages this season, the team was unlikely to get fair value for their franchise two-guard.

In the weeks leading up the Feb. 21 deadline, the Hornets put out feelers that Gordon could be had for the right price. Unsurprisingly, teams were reluctant to give up the farm for an oft-injured guard that is still owed close to $35 million for the next three seasons.

The Hornets expressed interest in a trade that would send Gordon to Golden State for a package headlined by Klay Thompson, but the Warriors were hesitant to move their promising, young shooting guard. The 23-year-old Thompson is averaging 16.3 points per game, while shooting 41 percent from the field.

However, the Hornets dodged a bullet by not trading Gordon to Golden State or anywhere else. New Orleans is 10.5 games out of the eighth seed in the West (as of Feb. 24). They aren't really playing for much besides pride and experience at this point.

While Gordon's hefty contract could be problematic going forward given his inability to stay healthy, the Hornets knew the risk involved when they decided to match Phoenix's four-year, $58 million offer over the summer. You don't decide to pay an oft-injured guy a max contract and then try to trade him when (surprise, surprise) he can't stay healthy.

Gordon has played in 21 of the team's 57 games this season. He leads the team in scoring with an average of 16.9 points per game, but is shooting a paltry 40 percent from the field and an even more disappointing 33 percent from behind the arc. Those aren't exactly the numbers expected from a guy making nearly $14 million a year.

Because of everything you just read in that previous paragraph, the Hornets were likely to get back less than market value for the team's best player. That's why it was smart to not dump Gordon just for the sake of dumping him. When healthy, Gordon's an excellent basketball player who can lead this team to big things.

Right now, he's an out-of-shape guard trying to make the best of things while playing on one good leg. Two months since his much-anticipated debut, Gordon is still not even trusted by the medical staff to play the back half of back-to-back games. Those might seem like excuses for his poor play, but it's also a case to not give up on the guy so soon.

Yes, it would have been great if the Hornets could have turned Gordon into a healthy budding star like Klay Thompson, but that deal was never going to happen. The unwillingness of 29 other teams to give up something substantial for Gordon should tell GM Dell Demps that his best bet is to continue building around the former Indiana Hoosier.

On the bright side, Gordon has had his moments this season. He's scored at least 20 points in nine of the 21 games he's played in this season and it wasn't long before he took over as the team's leading scorer.

Let's take a look at one of Gordon's better recent performances. This video is from Gordon's 27-point night against the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 8. In this clip, two of Gordon's biggest strong points are highlighted: his aggressiveness attacking the basket and his excellent jump shot.

At the :23  mark, watch how Gordon splits two Hawk defenders and then uses his thick frame to muscle his way to the basket. When the knee isn't hampering him, this is the Eric Gordon that the Hornets need. They need a guy who can get the hoop, initiates contact and then either draws the foul or goes up strong for the basket.

There are plenty of nice jump shots in this clip, but the one at the 1:53 mark is the most impressive. You'll see Gordon try to take his defender off the dribble. Then, he does a quick step back move to create space and nails the long jumper. That's the mark of a talented scorer and that's something the Hornets need from Gordon on a more consistent basis.

Now, let's go back a little further to Jan. 7 against the Spurs. Gordon scored 24 points that night, but his offense wasn't the total story.

At the :07 mark of this clip, you'll see Gordon miss an open three. Tim Duncan grabs the rebound and makes the long pass across the court to Danny Green for what seemed like an open lay-up. Instead, Gordon closes on Green and makes an emphatic block to deny the points.

A minute and 44 seconds into the reel, Gordon puts his passing skills on display. Center Robin Lopez steps out for the pick, then darts into the paint. Gordon splits two defenders with a precise bounce pass to put Lopez in position for the easy score. Since he's mainly a scorer, Gordon's ability to bring the ball up court and facilitate like a point guard go largely unnoticed.

At the three-minute point of the video, Gordon makes the most impressive play of the entire clip. He gets the ball along the baseline and temporarily loses control of his dribble. Danny Green closes in on him, but Gordon eventually crosses him over and nails an off-balance, step-back two (looks like a three, but foot was on the line).

That was an example of some superb ball-handling and some real talent to hit such a difficult shot. In this final clip, Gordon nails another difficult shot: a game-winner in the closing seconds of overtime against the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 5.

Once again, you'll see Gordon try to beat his man off the dribble. He stops near the top of the key and lures the defender in with a pump fake. Once his man jumps toward him, Gordon throws his body into the defender to draw the foul and still nails the bank shot for the go-ahead two.

The decision to initiate contact was a veteran move by Gordon and the ability to still hit the shot is a testament to his strength. The play is also an example of what Gordon brings to the table. He's the Hornets' crunch-time scorer and, when the game is on the line, he's the guy who you want with the ball in his hands. That's the definition of a franchise player.

In the end, the clamoring to get rid of Gordon is understandable. He's been hurt frequently. He hasn't shot the ball particularly well all season and hasn't shown the commitment to get himself in the kind of shape he needs to be in. There's also a sour taste from his offseason flirtation with Phoenix that turned him off to some fans in New Orleans.

However, when he's at his best, Eric Gordon is an all-around talent capable of carrying and leading this team from out of the Western Conference's basement. There aren't many guards in the league with Gordon's talent and it would have been foolish to give up him this early into his new deal.

The Hornets made their bed with Gordon when they decided to match Phoenix's huge offer. It's time that they sleep in it. Even if a promising, young talent like Klay Thompson were available in exchange for Gordon, he's no more of a sure thing than what the Hornets have now.

New Orleans is paying Eric Gordon to be their franchise guy. They need to show the same commitment to him that the fans expect Gordon to show to the city.

There have been reasons to cheer and causes for concern, but that's what you get when you roll the dice on a player with this many red flags. The Hornets agreed to this marriage with Gordon. They have to see it all the way through, for better or for worse.