Why Eric Gordon's Knee Injury Is Already Making His Max Contract Look Toxic

Stephen BabbFeatured ColumnistOctober 2, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 26:  Eric Gordon #10 of the New Orleans Hornets during the season openning NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on December 26, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Hornets defeated the Suns 85-84. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It's still too soon to know if this is a "Here We Go Again" moment, but I'm guessing New Orleans Hornets fans weren't thrilled to hear this from the Times-Picayune's Jimmy Smith:

# Hornets saying Eric Gordon will be limited early in camp because of right knee soreness. more to come

— Jimmy Smith (@JimmySmithtp) Oct. 1, 2012

It's OK, New Orleans—just keep thinking about how you got lucky at the draft lottery and landed Anthony Davis. It'll ease the pain.

As for Gordon's pain, there's little doubt the Hornets training staff is busy ascertaining just how best to ease it. For whatever it's worth, Gordon himself isn't sounding any alarms just yet. Via Chris Sheridan:

Just a little aggravation right now and I'm not very concerned. It's just something that you hate to deal with at this point and time. But at the same time, I’m looking forward to getting ready and progressing during camp.

He's not the only one.

The centerpiece of the blockbuster deal that moved Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers, there were high hopes for the former No. 7 overall pick. Those hopes were tapered a bit when the franchise opted to match the four-year, $58 million offer extended by the Phoenix Suns

Though Gordon had already missed significant chunks of time in his first three pro seasons, he missed 57 games in his first stint with New Orleans.

Still, it's hard to let this kind of talent just walk out the door.

The early-blooming shooting guard averaged more than 22 points during his final season in Los Angeles, establishing himself as one of the league's best young scorers with a consistent three-point stroke, strong finishing ability and at least six free-throw attempts per game. There's never been any doubt about what Gordon can do on the floor.

The trick is just keeping him on the floor.

Fortunately, the news isn't all bad. The injuries sidelining Gordon in 2010-11 were wrist-related; it wasn't until his first game as a Hornet that he incurred the cartilage damage that eventually required arthroscopic surgery.

In other words, we're not necessarily looking at the kind of problem that haunts an entire career. To the extent the Hornets are now playing things safe, it's to avoid just that. An investment such as this one is worth protecting—even if it's an investment that's already begun raising eyebrows.

All will be forgotten soon enough if Gordon turns in a big-time season. For now, fans will be understandably impatient, eager to see their best players join his stand-out rookie teammates. The Hornets won't be in the title discussion this season, but they're closer to the postseason than anyone might have expected just a few months ago.

With so many reasons to believe this rebuilding project won't last long, the prospect of that project being derailed by injury is a scary one.

For now, such a scenario is no more than one of the worst-case variety, but that's hardly reassuring for a franchise that's suffered through so much bad news and transition over the last two years.

Given the risks of another wasted season, Gordon should take all the time he needs to rest his knee. New Orleans is going to need him.