Point/Counterpoint: The Return of Eric Gordon

Published: March 23, 2012

Question: If he gets medical clearance, should Eric Gordon play again for the Hornets this season?

Combatants: Jake Madison and Jason Calmes (Yes he should play) vs. Michael McNamara and Joe Gerrity (Sit him down)

Ding. Ding. Ding.

Jake Madison: Eric Gordon needs to play for the Hornets this season. He needs to play soon and he needs to play a lot. There are many reasons for this, ranging from on-court to off-court. On the court, first and foremost, the team must see how his knee holds up. With a large contract looming in the offseason, Dell Demps will need evaluate how Gordon’s knee responds to the pace of an NBA game. Demps also needs to evaluate how Gordon plays with the rest of the team. If Gordon is going to be the long-term center piece of the Hornets, Demps needs to see what chemistry develops on the court; he needs to evaluate what type of players the team needs to bring in.

My main reason for why Gordon needs to play is not based solely in on-court performance. It’s because the fanbase needs some excitement. Right now, a huge chunk of the Hornets fanbase is depressed/upset with the team. I’ve even spoken with new season ticket holders that feel like the NBA “robbed” them this year. There are fans who don’t even know who Gordon is. As one of the most marketable assets, the Hornets need to show off his talent. I’ve made the distinction between diehard and casual NBA fans before. Diehard fans can get excited by draft picks. Casual fans need something more tangible.

They need to see a player like Gordon on the court. It’s a lot easier to sell season ticket renewals when fans can see what an exciting, young player they have. When Chris Paul was hurt for most of the 09-10, people still went to the arena because there were two rookies (Collison and Thornton) playing well. Diehard fans understand the idea of potential (namely a draft pick) and are okay waiting for it to play out. Casual fans need to see a manifestation of that potential on the court right now. If the Hornets want to sell tickets to casual fans, the larger subset, and build excitement about the team, they need to showcase Eric Gordon.

There is a thought that shutting Gordon down for the rest of the year will lower his contract value in the offseason and thus save the Hornets (who can match any offer) money. While this may seem like a savvy move for a (potentially) cash strapped franchise, it hurts in the long run. No free agent will want to sign with the team if this is how they treat players. It’s also a good way to get anyone the team trades for on the first plane out of town. So I say, as the charter member of the Eric Gordon Must Play Club, get him on the court now!

Michael McNamara: So, in essence, you are saying that Dell Demps has a decision to make this summer of whether or not to pay a player 50-60 million dollars over the next 4-5 years, and somehow that decision hinges on how Gordon plays over 12 meaningless games. That seems a little weak to me. If his knee “holds up” for those 12 games, are the worries about him being injury prone suddenly thrown out the window? Since when is 12 larger than 52? Gordon will have missed, theoretically, 52 games due to an injury at that point, but now magically Demps will feel comfortable moving forward because of 12 games?

As for the need to create “fan excitement”, this too is short sighted, as a 6-6 stretch to close the season won’t renew the buzz nearly as much as an ownership announcement or a bit of luck on the draft lottery night will- even for “casual fans”. And speaking of the draft lottery, any excitement and buzz created by Mr. Gordon will be because he is helping us win. If he helps us win, he takes precious lottery balls from the Anthony Davis franchise fortune reversal machine.

Ask Portland Trailblazers fans whether they would suggest bringing Gordon back this season. Oden was probably always going to get injured, no matter how long they held him back, but Brandon Roy is a different issue. Both the Blazers and Roy admitted that in retrospect, he came back too soon and it cost him in the end. Let’s not wait until retrospect gets here.

Meanwhile, the Clippers did the opposite with Blake Griffin, who had a very similar injury to Gordon. Instead of bringing him back at the end of a worthless season, they let him rest and he came out 100% the following year, winning ROY, exciting an entire fan base for the long term, and helping to change the culture (which eventually led to them landing CP3). This feels weird to even write, but: We should do the smart thing when it comes to Eric Gordon and think like the Clippers, not the Blazers.

Jason Calmes: Jake is right. If the dude can play without placing more risk on his knee than a generic, two-kneed NBA player puts on theirs, then play the man. 2 games is too small to really jump up and down about, but if clearing the cartilage debris from the bone bruise (a cute name for crushed bone or cartilage tissue) removes the small set of his symptoms for 12 straight games, then that makes him symptom free in my book and good to go. Additionally, his symptoms were of more concern due to their unexplained nature than their deleterious effect on his play, as we were told that he could play.

Plus, in the end, no matter what, a decision has to be made. It’s better to make that decision with the data. The data needed is some current information on how today’s EJ performs in a series of real games, as we have been told and shown that there just is no substitute (Porsche). Get the data.

In terms of the off-the-court reasons, rational consumers would behave according to your assessment, but, without generalizing about fans too much, the Hornets play in the land where people would for Saints games, in all particular orders: buy tickets, go to the game, put a bag on their head (decorated, of course). Also, the most memorable moment in local sports lore up until Steve Gleason’s block was half-footed Tom Dempsey’s 63-yd field goal in Tulane Stadium for the Saints’ last win of that season, improving them to 2-6 at the time.

A little goes a long way. That meaningless moment fueled hope for millions for 36 years until that to-this-day-spine-tingling “thook” that hit my ears and my eyes and brain eventually assembled the reality into a psychic morsel digestible by a human did the same for so many more when they needed it more than ever. That special special teamer is a hero, and his struggle against Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis has captured the hearts of the city (see the already named “annual” Gleason Gras). One play changes things. One moment. One.

Dems is facts, brah. Who dat!?! I got 294 years of this in my pocket if you want more . . . This EJ thing is a cakewalk, frankly.

Lastly, dude wants to play. It’s his knee, and that’s goes a long way for me. Play the man, then pay the man . . . what’s he worth, not a penny more.

Joe Gerrity: Frankly the idea that Gordon coming back and playing a few games for the purpose of selling tickets sounds like it came from a ticket rep’s mouth. Those guys have a job to do and I can’t blame them for wanting to show fans what they’ll be seeing next year. But as far as the long term future of the franchise goes, it’s odd to bring Gordon back this year. Or Landry and Okafor for that matter.

Right now there’s a 19.9 % chance of the Hornets getting the top pick. Yesterday, before Washington won and the Hornets lost, those odds were only 15.6. That means that we have a 27.6 percent better chance of getting Anthony Davis than we did yesterday. That’s substantial.

You know what happened to our chances at making the playoffs yesterday? They started at zero and that’s exactly where they finished. Winning games only matters right now if you personally sell tickets for a living.

You can put Gordon to work at practice, gauging the knee’s health after each one. You can fly him to 12 doctors around the world for 12 opinions. Hell, send the guy to the D-League for the remainder of the season if you want to know how he’s going to perform in competition. Just don’t have him out there turning close losses into wins just for the sake of possibly getting a few hundred more renewals.

I understand why you could see Gordon getting angry, but he’s made millions of dollars this year doing nothing. We don’t owe him anything, and surely he understands how important it is that this team doesn’t play itself of the Anthony Davis sweepstakes when there are so few long-term benefits to winning games right now. The franchise should have told him that they’re committed to keeping him no matter what, and that they’ll be offering him the same deal they previously did. He’s not about to lose out on a big contract just because the Hornets hold him out of the last 10 games of the season or whatever. Everyone should be clear about that by now.

That said, if giving Gordon a few minutes to showcase his skills in order to get the maximum possible contract in free agency is what he wants, then fine. So be it. Just don’t have him out there driving the tank late in the fourth quarter.



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