NEW ORLEANS — The Hornets have matched the Phoenix Suns’ four-year, $58 million offer to Eric Gordon, keeping the restricted free agent guard in New Orleans.
The move to retain Gordon on Saturday was expected, as Hornets general manager Dell Demps and coach Monty Williams had indicated they hoped the 23-year-old former Indiana standout could be the center piece of a rebuilding effort that will also include first overall draft choice Anthony Davis and No. 10 pick Austin Rivers.
Whether the decision will be palatable to fans remains to be seen. Last week, in the days before signing the Suns’ offer sheet, Gordon said he hoped to play for Phoenix, but that did not deter New Orleans from retaining his rights.
“Eric is a phenomenal player that we are thrilled to have in our organization,” Demps said.
Gordon, meanwhile, sounded more conciliatory in a statement released by the Hornets.
“There is always a business element to the NBA when dealing with contracts, but I never lost my appreciation for New Orleans,” Gordon said. “I look forward to giving my very best on the court this season to make our team successful.”
Gordon was limited to nine games last season because of a bruised right knee that required minor surgery. However, he averaged a team-high 20.6 points, and New Orleans was 6-3 when he played.
The Hornets acquired Gordon shortly before last season in a multiplayer trade that sent All-Star point guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers.
In four seasons in the NBA, Gordon has never averaged fewer than the 16.1 points per game he scored as a rookie.
In this third season, injuries limited him to 56 games with the Clippers, but he averaged 22.3 points.
He was invited to try out for the 2012 US Olympic team and narrowly missed the cut, with Oklahoma City’s James Harden edging him out for one of the final spots.
Demps and Williams never wavered in saying Gordon was New Orleans’ best player and a key part of the club’s long-term future.
Still, Gordon’s first season in New Orleans left many fans wondering if he really wanted to be in the Big Easy. After scoring the winning basket in the Hornets’ season opener in — of all places — Phoenix, he sat out for about two weeks while trying to recover from his bruised knee. He attempted to come back in a loss to Philadelphia on Jan. 4, but the knee was still bothering him.
He then went through a prolonged and seemingly fruitless six-week rehabilitation period that sparked debate among fans over whether the high-scoring guard was refusing to play. Those debates heated up further when Gordon rejected the Hornets’ four-year contract extension offer at a late-January deadline for teams to complete extensions with players who were due to become restricted free agents after the season.
In mid-February, Gordon and the Hornets finally opted for surgery, and Gordon returned triumphantly on April 4, scoring 15 points in an upset victory over playoff-bound Denver.
New Orleans, which won only 21 games all season, won eight of its last 13 thanks in large part to Gordon’s return.
Gordon was a regular at the Hornets’ training center leading up to the draft, indicating he had confidence in the club’s direction under new owner Tom Benson, who also owns the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.
But when free agency began this month, Gordon went on a tour of teams interested in his services and got an offer from Pheonix that represented the maximum a team could pay for another team’s restricted free agent.
Gordon then said he hoped to play for the Suns because they made more of an effort to sign him than the Hornets had. Gordon said the Hornets’ decision to draft Rivers, who had played Gordon’s position of shooting guard in college, indicated that New Orleans was moving in a different direction. Gordon added that the Hornets also had failed to address the need for more front-court players.
Since Gordon’s comments, however, the Hornets have acquired 6-foot-10 forward Ryan Anderson, and have traded away former starting point guard Jarrett Jack in a deal that cleared about $5 million under the salary cap to help New Orleans seek another big man in free agency.
The Hornets also have begun training Rivers to play point guard, starting in the Las Vegas summer league that opened this weekend.
Those moves appeared to be aimed at helping Gordon thrive in New Orleans. Time will tell if he truly is interested in doing so.