HOUSTON — More than an hour before tipoff, Eric Gordon was out on the Toyota Center court with his teammates, spinning left, moving right, pulling up on the dribble and firing jumpers. Some hit the rim and bounced away, but most found the bottom of the net, just the way you’d hope for one of the main guns in an offense that needs all the help it can get.
Except that when the game started Gordon was in street clothes, back on the bench, where he has spent far too much time over the past two seasons.
The Hornets are taking the very cautious approach this time around, holding their 6-foot-3 guard out of back-to-back games as he continues his comeback from a patella tendon disorder and a bone bruise in his right knee.
After missing the first 29 games of the season, Gordon finally made his debut on Saturday night at Charlotte, scoring a team-high 24 points in 25 minutes of a win. Then he played another 25 minutes and shot just 5-for-17 in a loss at home to Atlanta on Tuesday night.
“It’s not so much rest, but just being smart with his knee,” said Hornets coach Monty Williams. “It’s what the doctors had recommended … Obviously, as a coach, you want him out there, but you’ve got to err on the side of caution.”
Especially with the memories of a year ago still fresh in their minds. That’s when Gordon suffered what was originally thought to be a bone bruise in his knee in the Dec. 26 season opener, sat out four games and then came back and played 39 minutes of a loss to Philadelphia.
That turned out to be the last game Gordon would play until April, following arthroscopic surgery Feb. 14 when rehabbing the knee with rest and therapy was unsuccessful.
“I’ve got to be more careful this time,” Gordon said. “The last thing I want to do is push too hard too fast and find myself right back in a position where I’ve got to sit out again. That’s not something that I want to go through again.”
After coming to New Orleans as part of the controversial Chris Paul trade just before the start of last season, Gordon has played in just 11 games for the Hornets. He became a restricted free agent last summer and signed a four-year, $58 million offer sheet with the Suns and caused a stir in New Orleans by saying he hoped the Hornets wouldn’t match it.
“That was just part of getting the contract and me doing what was best for me,” Gordon said. “I think everyone is past that now and the reception I got in my first home game in New Orleans the other night was what I expected. It was good.”
What Gordon had also expected was to be able to team up with No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis before now and to start putting the pieces back together for the Hornets.
“It can be very positive for us going forward,” Gordon said. “Now it’s all about the growing process. When you see young guys being consistent, that’s when you’re growing. Of course, to do that we’ve all got to be out there playing together.”
To be able to stay out there together for the long run, Gordon is willing to have the reins held tight for now. His minutes will continue to be limited in the near future, but Williams said they could be increased by 4-10 minutes by the next game at Dallas on Saturday.
“When you’re like me and you haven’t played much basketball for 1 1/2 years, it can be mentally draining,” Gordon said. “You want to push. You want to hurry. You get so eager. But then you have to sit down and remember all those long, hard days when all you could do was rehab and rehab and couldn’t be with your team.
“My passion and love is this game. These limited minutes right now are tough to swallow. But last year I came back and played full-out right from the start and look where it got me. It’s a lot harder mentally to do it this way. But I’m pretty sure it’s a lot smarter.”