Next season, “pelican” will enter the NBA lexicon—it doesn’t signify a special play or referee call, but the new franchise name of the soon-to-be defunct New Orleans Hornets. A large bird with an ornate gullet on the underside of its beak is not as imposing as say, a hawk, but with players like guard Eric Gordon, the New Orleans Pelicans name can fly.
On Tuesday night, Gordon made his way back to Los Angeles—the city where he began his career after becoming the seventh overall pick of the Los Angeles Clippers during the 2008 NBA Draft. In the familiar surroundings of the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, Gordon faced his former cotenants the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Hornets lost 111-106, but Gordon had a game-high 25 points, including a torrid 6-of-8 from beyond the arc. Despite the loss, the Hornets have won nine of 16 since Gordon made his way back to the lineup—an about-face considering the young, growing team was 6-23 prior to his return.
Overall, the Hornets are 15-30, but if wins continue to exceed losses, they should eclipse their abysmal 21-45 record in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. They’re still a far cry from being the Western Conference playoff contenders they were in seasons prior.
However, the pangs of a franchise in rebuilding mode are not new to Gordon. He endured losing seasons with the Clippers, but became part of a formidable inside-outside duo that also featured rookie phenom Blake Griffin in the 2010-11 season.
After three productive years with Los Angeles that saw his point totals increase each season, Gordon was sent to New Orleans via trade for All-Star point guard Chris Paul. This made Gordon, a gold medalist during the 2010 FIBA World Championships, the instant face of a New Orleans franchise that was undergoing ownership changes.
Thus far, he has yet to prove as such—a knee injury only allowed him to play nine games in the 2011-12 season. He finished with averages of 20.6 points and 3.4 assists per game. The start of the 2012-13 season retold the same story. Gordon’s ailing knee made him miss the first 29 games before a return to action on December 29.
The Hornets have yet to really see the best of Gordon, but the strong-bodied 6-foot-3 guard is more than capable of carrying the franchise when healthy. Hornets head coach Monty Williams is not short of combo-guard superlatives to describe Gordon.
"He's a dynamic two-guard who can score the ball," said Williams. "You can give it to him at the end of games. He can defend his own position. He can run pick-and-roll. He kind of puts everybody else into their spot, and that's something that most of the good teams around the league have, they have two or three guys like that.”
As Coach Williams pointed out, Gordon is unflappable during crunch time—a key component for leadership.
"I definitely want to be the leader," Gordon confirmed to USA Today Sports. "That's what they brought me back here for and that's what I am here to do."
With Gordon leading the charge, the Hornets’ fortunes in the second half of the season could turn in their favor.
During my stint covering the Clippers, I was able to witness Gordon in his off-the-court environs. Gordon oozed confidence, but didn’t carry himself in a manner that made him smug.
Gordon’s quiet disposition meant you didn’t see him participate in peevish chatter with teammates after a loss. In addition, he was always cordial with the media and emblematic in terms of NBA professionalism.
I recall one particular moment that’s been etched in my mind. Gordon was inactive for a game against the Denver Nuggets due to an injured wrist. Nonetheless, in civilian clothes, he was in the Clippers locker room with his eyes fixated on a television screen showing video footage of the Nuggets.
I figured Gordon was trying to extract tidbits of information he could dispel to his teammates during timeouts. That was him—doing what he can to help his team even though he wasn’t in uniform.
What franchise wouldn’t want that type of player representing their organization?
As the Hornets’ marketing team begins to formulate promotional ideas to ingratiate fans to the Pelicans name, a healthy Gordon in the 2013-14 season will certainly help in that effort. If he can sustain All-Star worthy numbers that translate into wins, the Pelicans name will be more palatable to the public at large.