Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.
By John DentonOct. 12, 2014
ORLANDO -- Thumbing through the myriad of coaches that he has played for over the last half-dozen years in the NBA, Ben Gordon came to a sudden and stark revelation: His most productive seasons were when he was taking orders from head coaches who once manned guard positions at the professional level.
Hopefully, Gordon said with a wry smile, the same will hold true this season in Orlando while playing for former point guard and current Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn.
``I think it’s always great playing for a coach that’s played the game,’’ Gordon said. ``I played for guys like Scott Skiles and Vinny Del Negro (with the Chicago Bulls) and I had some of my best seasons with them. I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence or if it’s them knowing the game and understanding the (shooting guard) position. Maybe that made it easier for me. Hopefully I have the same success here with Jacque.’’
The topic of the coach that Gordon plays for is relevant now because the veteran shooting guard feels that he was grossly misused during some of his time in Detroit (2009-12) and during his two unsuccessful seasons in Charlotte (2012-14). He played for head coaches John Kuester and Lawrence Frank in three seasons with the Pistons and rookie head coaches Mike Dunlap and Steve Clifford in two years in Charlotte – all of them with diminishing returns.
Things were so awkward and uncomfortable in Charlotte that Gordon agreed to be waived late last season by the then-Bobcats. With the Gordon’s new team, the Magic (2-0), heading back to Charlotte for Monday’s exhibition game, the 31-year-okld shooting guard is delighted have a clean slate in Orlando.
``(The struggles in Charlotte) bothered me a lot while I was there. Obviously, I was happy to be out of that situation,’’ Gordon said. ``It’s behind me now. It’s just one of those things that happens and you try to learn from it and I’m just moving on.’’
Gordon, an 11-year NBA veteran, is hoping to revitalize his NBA career in Orlando with the Magic. Orlando signed him to a two-year, free-agent contract in the offseason, but just one season is guaranteed, meaning that the veteran is basically playing on a make-good deal. Gordon twice averaged more than 20 points a game and has shot better than 40 percent from 3-point range seven times, and he’s eager to show the basketball world that he still has plenty of life left in his once lethal jump shot.
``I think it’s a huge year for me,’’ said Gordon, a career 15.6-point-a-game scorer and a 40.2 percent shooter from 3-point range. ``I never had a year before like last year where I basically didn’t even play. This year is to re-establish myself and who I really am as a player. I want to try to be as consistent as I can be on a daily basis, whether that’s putting in my work in the gym or in games. I want to let my hard work flow and take advantage of this opportunity.’’
The Magic have seen Gordon’s hunger manifest itself in the time that he’s put in at the team headquarters throughout the offseason. It wasn’t uncommon during the summer months for Gordon to workout with his teammates during the morning and then return with his 3-year-old son, Elijah, for a late-night shooting session. Magic GM Rob Hennigan and head coach Jacque Vaughn said that on several occasions they would see Gordon getting in extra shooting work late at night during the summer.
``That’s just pretty much me and who I am,’’ Gordon said of his strong work habits. ``Anybody who has coached me knows that I’m always in the gym. And now that I’ve got my little guy, I’m trying to lead by example with him. He loves basketball too, so that makes it easier. He wants to get in the gym as much as I do. It’s fun to have a little shooting partner out there.’’
All of that work has yet to translate for Gordon this preseason, but as he pointed out, the Magic have only installed but a sliver of their playbook and have been operating mostly out of read-and-react sets so far. In two preseason games, Gordon has scored 15 points in 36 minutes while hitting seven of 18 field goals and none of his three 3-pointers.
Still, Vaughn has been pleased with how Gordon has been willing to play hard on both ends of the floor and adapt to the team’s system. Vaughn said he knows that Gordon’s production within the offense will come as he becomes more familiar with his new teammates.
``He was really good on both ends of the floor the other night (Friday in Indiana),’’ said Vaughn, who noted that Gordon was one of the first players on the floor for shooting drills prior to Sunday morning’s practice. ``You talk about being in the right position defensively and him being really committed to what we’re trying to do. He had a great possession in front of our bench, a post-up possession, and we ended up with a steal. So overall, it was a really good night and offensively his looks were good with a mix of getting to the bucket and coming off for his shot.’’
Gordon was considered one of the game’s best shooting guards early in his career because of his ability to generate offense quickly off the bench. He pumped in a career-best 21.4 points per game in 2006-07 while playing for the fiery Skiles. And his 20.7 points per game in 2008-09 while being the go-to option in Del Negro’s offense earned him a massive free-agent contract from the Pistons.
Vaughn, who played for coaching greats such as Jerry Sloan, Gregg Popovich and Roy Williams, said it’s not surprising that Gordon has had his finest seasons when he had great relationships with his coaches. Vaughn said he recently saw Gordon on an elevator in the team hotel laughing and cutting up his teammates and he likes the calmness the veteran shooting guard possesses heading into this season.
``I think the relationship is what it really boils down to – having a relationship with a coach or a player and being able to talk to them,’’ Vaughn said. ``I’m pretty transparent with my guys and what I expect of them, so that’s a great area where guys can trust me and understand exactly where they stand in their coach’s eyes. Every coach wants that.
``If they are playing 30-some-odd minutes, they want to know their rotation when they are going to come out of the game and where their shots are going to come,’’ Vaughn continued. ``And if they are playing three minutes, they want to know why they are playing for three minutes and what those three minutes encompass.’’
For all of his success in Chciago, Gordon never seemed to fit in Detroit with a disjointed roster and a coaching staff that seemed to be in constant turmoil. The same applied in Charlotte and during a five-year stretch he played for four different coaches and never found a system that fit his style of navigating through several screens to create open shots.
``I was fortunate enough my first four years to play for the same coach and really get to develop and understand what he wanted,’’ Gordon said of Skiles. ``Once I left (Chicago), I’ve had a handful of coaches. … It’s hard to build some chemistry and trust with a coach when there’s always a new guy coming in. That’s just part of the league. Some guys are fortunate to play for the same coach their whole career and some guys have multiple coaches. It’s just something you need to be able to adapt to and adjust to.’’
Gordon is encouraged that his adaptation to his new teammates has been a smooth one and he’s been able to build more and more chemistry throughout training camp and the exhibition season. Gordon said it’s on him to assimilate himself into the system, and he’s encouraged that Vaughn – a former player who understands the importance of a shooting guard’s touches and usage in an offense – will set him up to have another big season that could resurrect his career.
``I think players go through that all of the time and it’s just a matter of figuring out ways to adjust and still be effective regardless of how you are being used,’’ Gordon said of his struggles in different systems in years past. ``The great thing about shooters is that the defense still has to respect you even if you’re not shooting the ball particularly well. It still opens the game up for your teammates. I like the way that we’re sharing the ball here and no one is being selfish at all. I think it’s going to be really good for me.’’