The New Orleans Pelicans didn't plan on stopping at just a name change this summer.
A busy offseason has, at least on paper, pushed this team well within striking distance to end its current two-year playoff drought.
All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday landed in the Big Easy in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers agreed to on draft night and finalized shortly thereafter. Versatile wing (and 2010 Rookie of the Year) Tyreke Evans was added to the mix as part of a sign-and-trade swap with the Sacramento Kings and Portland Trail Blazers.
With 2012's top pick, Anthony Davis, and floor-spacing stretch big Ryan Anderson already in tow, the Pelicans have all the makings of a franchise on the rise.
Even more importantly, though, New Orleans may be closing in on its biggest acquisition of this summer: an excited and engaged Eric Gordon.
The prolific scoring guard (career 18.0 points per game) has had a tumultuous stay in New Orleans since his inclusion in the four-player trade that sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers. A rash of injuries have limited to Gordon to just 51 games over the last two seasons, but his public relations blunders may have been even more damaging.
He pleaded with the then-Hornets not to match the four-year, $58 million offer sheet he signed with the Phoenix Suns last summer. Once New Orleans decided to pony up the cash to keep him around, Gordon did little to mask his displeasure. Even when he felt healthy enough to suit up, his emotional state clearly needed some repair work.
But one of sports' longest running cliches may be proving its worth in analysts' vernacular. The power of winning (or, in this case, the mere prospect of winning) has tremendous healing power.
According to USA Today's Sam Amick, Gordon sounds more than ready to give his New Orleans hoops career the fresh start that it never had:
It's an all new beginning for me. That Holiday (trade)—that was surprising because he's still a young dude. You would've never thought that would happen. It's good that we have him for sure, and we've made some pretty good moves for sure.
While Holiday and Evans were two huge finds for New Orleans, Gordon may have the greatest say in the Pelicans' future. As talented as Holiday and Evans both are, both still have holes in their games.
Perhaps stretched beyond his basketball limits by the Andrew Bynum-less 76ers, Holiday set a new career low with his 43.1 field-goal percentage in 2012-13, the second straight season his shooting numbers set a new basement. His turnovers also jumped to 3.7 per game, by far the most of his career and the league's second-worst average.
As for Evans, his numbers have declined across the board since his stellar debut season. He's struggled mightily to add a three-point shot to his offensive repertoire (his 33.8 percent success rate last season was a new career best), and until defenders are buying it as a consistent threat, they'll continue to close off his driving lanes.
Gordon just might be the complete package, though.
With handles, quickness, strength and in-the-gym range, he can score from anywhere on the floor. He's a better defender than he's given credit for and just as capable of creating shots for his teammates (career 3.3 assists per game) as he is for himself.
Pelicans fans have never seen a positive, focused Gordon before. Judging by what he told Amick, it sounds like the wait for New Orleans fans may finally be coming to a close:
It's definitely heading in the right direction. We've got a lot of good young talent that's been experienced and they've proven themselves. Especially with Tyreke and Jrue, where we all can play together and break down (defenders), it just makes more opportunities for this team.
Of course, when talking about a player with Gordon's injury history, his body's been just as big of a detriment to a successful stay in New Orleans as his attitude. Luckily for Pelicans fans, Rotoworld.com's Michael Gallagher has good news to report on that front as well:
Eric Gordon just told Monty Williams that he's going to be back in a few weeks.— Michael Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher) July 18, 2013
A healthy and happy Gordon? That's something New Orleans fans, along with the rest of the hoops world, have been waiting a long time to see.
Just like the Pelicans' additions, though, this is something that still holds its value only on paper. It's a strong start for sure, but it's hard to blame anyone for taking a wait-and-see approach with this new and improved version of Eric Gordon.
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