NEW ORLEANS — Tony Parker sat in front of his locker in the visiting locker room at the New Orleans Arena on Wednesday, his shoulder wrapped in ice.
While savvy veteran had just put a dagger in the Hornets’ hearts with a last-minute 3-pointer that led to the Spurs' 99-95 win, he wasn’t looking back at that shot.
Instead, he was looking forward. Specifically, he was prognosticating the future.
“You have to give them a lot of credit,” Parker, the San Antonio standout guard, said. “They fight. They played great tonight. They’re going to be good in 2-3 years. They’re going to be good.”
Parker is right. The Hornets could be that good team, with one condition – Eric Gordon has to play.
Gordon is the player the Hornets were missing against San Antonio, the late-game assassin who would have taken a better shot than Greivis Vasquez was able to get off when the team needed a shot to match Parker’s.
But Gordon didn’t participate in training camp and is out indefinitely, meaning he’s the soft prima donna who doesn’t appear to be worth the four-year, $58 million max contract he signed this summer. At least, he hasn’t shown it yet.
He has a mysterious right knee injury that was supposed to be fixed with surgery this spring but was still giving him and the training staff as well as head coach Monty Williams fits. Wednesday morning, Williams said the Hornets were still looking for some clarity on the injury.
Gordon is a difference maker and if he’s in the lineup against San Antonio, the Hornets have a much better shot at walking out the Arena with a win. They have a player who has in his career hit big-time shots at big-time moments.
Instead, they left the Arena with a moral victory, though not a bad one.
For New Orleans, just looking across the floor provided a valuable enough experience.
San Antonio rolls with six players that have at least eight years of NBA experience. They’ve been through the battles, know when to panic and, more importantly, when not to lose control.
The Hornets’ roster, meanwhile, boasts four rookies, one player with a year experience, three players with two years of experience and three others with four seasons under their belts.
It’s a young team with a lot of room to grow.
Wednesday night was the prototypical experience vs. inexperience game.
New Orleans played tough, hard and smart in the first half, taking a 50-43 lead into halftime. Rookie Anthony Davis, the No. 1 overall pick in June’s draft, had 13 points and four rebounds to that point.
San Antonio, though, never panicked and in the third quarter, went on a 17-4 run that changed the game. While the Hornets eventually regained the lead, they never totally regained the momentum and certainly lacked the killer instinct.
Williams knew it would happen, that San Antonio would do what the Spurs did. The warning, though, fell on deaf ears.
“We talked to our guys about their ability to raise their level and I thought we matched it a little too late,” Williams said.
And to close out the game, the Hornets’ inexperience showed, their defense breaking down and their offense dying. San Antonio outscored the Hornets 12-4 in the final 2½ minutes of the game.
Roger Mason Jr., the longest tenured NBA player on the New Orleans roster, knows that though early, this could be prove to be a tremendous experience for the Hornets.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that have never been in this situation before,” Mason said. “And you look at the other side and those guys have been playing together for almost a decade. They’ve been in that situation and many other situations time and time again. With rookies and second- and third-year players, this experience is going to be valuable down the line.”
Added forward Jason Smith, “Everybody has potential when they come in this NBA. We have to come out and learn from experiences. This is a learning experience from us, that’s what I take from it.”
Anthony Davis, Austin Rivers, Darius Miller along with Vasquez, Al-Farouq Aminu and Ryan Anderson give New Orleans a good nucleus for the future. They learned a lesson Wednesday night.
Parker is right. The future is bright.
With or without Gordon, this team is going to give New Orleanians something to cheer about for years to come.