Eric Gordon is a study in career derailment. His NBA life started out wonderfully, but the other shoe has always been quick to drop on him.
Drafted 7th overall by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2008, Gordon started in 65 games and played in 78.
He hasn't played in more than 64 games since.
By year three he hit his peak, averaging 22.3 points and 4.4 assists per game for an improving Clippers team, but a lockout stalled his momentum going into the following season.
In December of that lockout year, he was traded to New Orleans as part of the deal that sent Chris Paul to L.A., prior to the start of the season. It was bittersweet, as he was leaving a team he'd grown successful with, to be the man for the Hornets. Arthroscopic knee surgery limited him to just nine games that season.
The remainder of Gordon's New Orleans tenure was at times productive, at other times injury-riddled and overall wholly unremarkable.
He went from a rising young star to an afterthought in the Crescent City. Over five seasons he averaged a milquetoast 15 points per game, while only managing to play 44 games per year. He had just one playoff appearance, a four-game sweep at the hands of the eventual champion Golden State Warriors in 2014-15.
Now he starts his Houston Rockets career, looking to rekindle the promise of his first few seasons.
What are the Rockets getting at this point? A career 38% three-point shooter who's a proven scorer when on the court. His defense is not his strong suit, but it's above the James Harden line. He's on a relatively good contract compared to others in his free agent class - four years, $53 million with $12 million in year one. He can still get up for dunks at the rim at age 27, but will likely be facing a sharp decline in athleticism during his Rockets contract.
The good news is Mike D'Antoni can keep him fresh and mitigate his risk of injury by bringing him off the bench. Gordon figures to play behind Harden at the 2-guard spot, where he represents a large improvement over last season's options when the Beard sits.
Harden led the league in minutes in 2015-16, so Gordon's presence allows D'Antoni to give his star player much-needed rest going forward. Gordon will also share the floor with Harden in three guard lineups and may even run the point for stretches. Gordon's three-point shooting figures to open the floor as part of Houston's expected four-out attack. Lineups with Harden, Gordon and Ryan Anderson will be a nightmare to defend, as the latter two can't be easily helped off of when Harden attacks the paint.
Gordon may never score 22 points a game again, but the table is set for him to put up buckets like he did in his early-20s, before the Hornets/Pelicans malaise and injuries took their toll.
We need to talk about those injuries, which have been synonymous with Gordon as a player for the past five seasons. If healthy, you can picture Gordon as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. But health has been difficult to sustain over long stretches. He's suffered soft tissue injuries, bone breaks, lower body, upper body and hand injuries. The hits just kept coming and it's concerning that such an array of problems have stricken his body. Here are his game totals during his New Orleans stint:
||Right knee surgery
||Lingering knee issues
||Left knee surgery
||Left shoulder injury
||Two hand surgeries
This is the part where we remind you there are 82 games in an NBA regular season.
For that lucrative contract to make any sense at all, Gordon needs to be healthy for at least 65 games on average over the next four years. Unfortunately, recent history tells us that is highly unlikely. Any extended time missed by Gordon will leave the Rockets' second unit light on shooting and playmaking, reminiscent of last year's debacle.
D'Antoni has worked wonders with athletic scoring guards, such as Leandro Barbosa, Eddie House and James Jones. He still has the talent to be a difference-maker and the ability to deliver in the clutch when his body is right.
A once-promising star-in-the-making has suffered enough career derailment. Houston is taking a 53 million dollar gamble on Gordon's body holding up, and if it does it'll be crucial to their success next season.