By Ben Golliver
When knee injuries and max players intersect, frustration is inevitable and clarity can be difficult to find. But usually it's not this difficult.
Hornets guard Eric Gordon, signed to a four-year, $58 million max deal as a restricted free agent this summer, missed the entire preseason and his team's season opener Wednesday, citing pain in his surgically-repaired right knee. That same knee forced him to miss all but nine games last season.
On Thursday, in light of Hornets fans clear concerns about his availability, Gordon spoke with reporters in an attempt to lay out exactly what was wrong (video above). Unfortunately, he was neither certain nor consistent in his explanation, deepening the confusion.
The Times-Picayune reports that Gordon told reporters that he suffered an unspecified "setback" over the summer that is now causing him pain. After first saying that there was "nothing structural" wrong with the knee, he later said that "there's damage" and that he would know more after being re-evaluated in the next few days.
"From talking to the doctors, from when I last told you guys in September until now, I have had a little bit of a setback as far as this injury. Nothing structural, but it has been a little bit of soreness and swelling to where I'm only listening to the doctors and they can see and tell that it's been a little damage."
Responding to a question of whether the latest MRI indicated damage, Gordon said: "That's the reason why I'm not playing," Gordon said. "The past three days I've been practicing because I thought it would be something I might have to deal with pain-wise. I went to the organization the other day and told them 'This is not feeling too good. It's very painful.' We went and got another MRI."
Worse yet, when asked directly whether it was possible he would miss the entire 2012-13 season, Gordon would only say that he had "no timetable." Cue panic, considering the Hornets could sure use his 20 points-per-game scoring and elite ability to get to the free-throw line and because many are still upset that Gordon expressed a desire to leave the Hornets and sign with the Suns over the summer.
On Wednesday, Hornets GM Dell Demps essentially offered no comment on the situation or on coach Monty Williams, who seemed to hint that the doctor's report and Williams' feelings of pain didn't totally jive.
"I've checked with Doc," Williams said, "but for him to explain to me what's going on with his body and then have Eric feel a certain way doesn't matter. You know what I'm saying? If Doc says one thing and the guy is feeling another, then you have to ... what am I supposed to say?
"I'm sure it's got to be medical. A guy just can't not play. It's got to be medical. At this point of the year, everybody is excited to play. I'm sure it's medical."
The stakes are high and the demand for answers is strong. But Williams, one of the league's classiest men, sets the right example here, even if he sounds a little bit confused and frustrated himself. That message: don't play doctor and trust that a max-level basketball player wants to play basketball. Anything past that is harmful speculation; waiting a few days for further tests and for Gordon, in Demps' words, to "process all the information" is the right play for now.
Video via Joe Gerrity