The New Orleans Hornets had a plan; they had a vision. But now they must put it on hold, potentially for good.
When the Hornets shipped Chris Paul off to Los Angeles last December there was still hope. Sure, they were a franchise in flux, one that had just lost a top-five NBA talent, but the package they received in return resembled anything but the table scraps the Magic would receive for Dwight Howard.
The highlight of that package, the player that ultimately made the trade worthwhile? Eric Gordon, a crafty combo guard who could score, distribute and even defend. And he lived up to such lofty expectations, for about second.
After just two games donning New Orleans blue and gold—one of which included a game-winner—Gordon was forced to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. And just like that—even though he would go on to return to the court before the season's conclusion—No. 10's coming out party came to an abrupt end.
But that was then, this is now.
The Hornets soon realized a different vision, one that was built around not only Gordon, but the top-pick in this year's draft—Anthony Davis.
Yes, Davis, the versatile forward out of Kentucky who can do it all. The athlete who everyone has pegged as the second-coming of Kevin Garnett. The kid who can inject hope into a struggling franchise on his own.
Together, Davis and Gordon would form the ultimate duo, one that would instill a sense of fear into opponents and render the Hornets playoff contenders for years to come; one that compelled the Hornets to retain Gordon against his original wishes.
There's just one catch. The "that was then, this is now" mantra no longer applies here. Because, quite frankly, "now" resembles "then" a heck of a lot more than New Orleans could have ever anticipated or wanted.
Why? Because of Gordon.
Courtesy of soreness in his right knee—yes, that same right knee—he has yet to see any preseason action.
And according to John Reid of The Times-Picayune, there's no set timetable for his return:
"I’m not sure when we’re going to amp up the rehab and get him on the floor, it may happen this week or next week,’’ Williams said after Sunday's practice. ``But it’s like he’s out there, he’s in every drill or standing by the guys talking with them.
"I put a lot on Eric as far as stepping up as a leader. It’s a position he’s never really been in before. I think he’s going to make some strides in that area.’’
That's a problem. Not only is there no guarantee Gordon is cleared to play in the next few weeks, but this all went down before he had time to assert himself as a leader, the team's undeniable star and most importantly, develop an on-court rapport with the rookie Davis.
It's just the preseason, though, right? These things take time anyway, don't they?
Yes, it's just the preseason and they have the rest of the year to get on the same wavelength, and yes pairings of this potential take time to establish themselves. But the troubling notion here is Gordon has officially left the sheltered realm of unfortunate circumstance and breached an injury-prone reality.
Over the past two years, Gordon has appeared in just 65 of 146 possible regular-season games, less than half. And now this.
Such a sporadic health docket is unbecoming of a 23-year-old star. Not only does it not bode well for his reputation in terms of durability, but for a player like Gordon, who likes to crossover his defender and make sharp, strong cuts to the basket, it doesn't bode well for his effectiveness.
Especially alongside Davis. The ability for both players to score from anywhere on the floor, and handle the rock from anywhere on the court, makes them a potential pick-and-roll nightmare for opponents to defend.
But this is only true if both Davis and Gordon are on the floor at the same time, learning one another's tendencies and developing the type of chemistry New Orleans envisioned merely months ago.
Gordon has not proved he can remain healthy enough for such aspirations to become a reality. Sure, he has a career average of 18.2 points, 3.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game, but does that make him a superstar? He only has a total of 205 games under his belt, not even two season's worth.
Even New Orleans head coach Monty Williams admitted that believes "people forget how good he is." At first glance that may seem like a compliment, but in reality, it's a near-insurmountable problem.
Which is why Gordon and Davis will never become the dynamic threat they're supposed to. Gordon's knee, and any other injuries he may incur, won't let them.
So, while the Hornets' nine-figure spending spree this summer was a bold and arguably necessary attempt to help the franchise turn a corner, a vast majority of their current blueprint is shrouded in uncertainty.
Davis is the future in New Orleans. He is the one that will ensure the team returns to prominence.
Gordon, however? We shouldn't be forced to remember how talented he is or how much of an impact he can make, but rather, we should anticipate how long it will be before he takes the next step, how he and Davis will one day run the Hornets toward a championship.
Instead, we're acknowledging "what could be" between him and Davis. And such a train of thought, so early in an athlete's career, is anything but promising, anything but indicative of a durable superstar in the making.
Because at this pace, it's only a matter of time before "what could be" becomes a case of "what should have been."