The fate of the New Orleans Hornets for this upcoming season and beyond rests on the health and production of guard Eric Gordon. As the team's best player and primary scoring option, it is imperative that Gordon shake the injury bug that has derailed his career.
Gordon played in only nine games last year in his first season with the Hornets. New Orleans struggled to find someone who could fill the void left by Gordon's absence and the Hornets finished with a paltry 21-45 record. That was tied for the third-worst record in the league.
This season brought some welcome change, however. The team is under new ownership thanks to the purchase of the team by New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. The team struck gold by winning the lottery and landing potential franchise big man Anthony Davis with the No. 1 overall pick.
The team also did some roster shuffling over the summer. They jettisoned pricey veterans such as Jarrett Jack, Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor. That opened up cap room to bring in free agents such as Robin Lopez, Ryan Anderson and Roger Mason. The team also drafted Duke guard Austin Rivers with the 10th overall pick.
Despite all of the maneuvering that was done, one constant remains: The team only goes as far as Eric Gordon can take them. Gordon isn't just the team's best offensive weapon. He's pretty much their only consistent option.
Anderson saw his scoring numbers increase last season with Orlando on his way to winning the NBA's Most Improved Player award. However, while Anderson can score from nearly anywhere on the floor, he isn't the type of alpha dog that could pick up the slack if Gordon were to get hurt again. Anderson isn't even guaranteed a spot in the starting lineup, as Davis and Al-Farouq Aminu seem to have grasped onto the starting forward spots.
Davis, for all of the hype surrounding him, is still just a 19-year-old rookie. He's still too raw to be counted on to carry the team in the event Gordon is physically unable to. As high as Davis' ceiling is, his success isn't a guarantee. It's something many would like to see happen, like the cancellation of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.
Gordon is a dynamic scorer and elite shooter. When healthy, he's one of the best shooting guards in the game. He's a unique combo guard with the bulk to take it strong to the hoop as well as the soft touch to light it up from deep. The problem is Gordon's lack of durability. He can't show off his skills from the end of the bench draped in an Armani suit.
The Hornets have built quite the cast around Gordon. It's time for him to take charge. Davis will supply the defense and rebounding. Rivers and Anderson will be team's secondary scoring options, but all of the eggs lay firmly in Gordon's basket. No team can succeed without its best player. Until Davis is ready to take the reins, the weight falls squarely on the former Hoosier's shoulders.
It may be unrealistic to expect 82 games out of a man who has never played a full season, but the Hornets need at least 70 from their $58 million man. Gordon is being paid to be the franchise guy. If the Hornets are going to live up to their vast potential, they need Gordon to be the guy he's being paid to be.