ASHEVILLE The Charlotte Bobcats aren’t asking guard Ben Gordon for a lot of things; it’s more a whole lot of one thing:
Game-winners. Hopefully a slew of them.
When the front office evaluated that gruesome 7-59 season, the decision-makers concluded they didn’t have enough experience, enough high-quality perimeter shooting or a player quite ready to be a go-to guy down the stretch of a tight game.
Enter Gordon, via trade with the Detroit Pistons. And to sweeten the deal (the Bobcats had to absorb an additional $12 million in salary in 2012-13), Charlotte will also get a future first-round pick.
The pick is valuable but so is Gordon. He’s a career 41 percent 3-point shooter and the Bobcats finished last in the NBA in that category (29.5 percent) last season. More importantly, he’s always been a guy ready to take the shot that decides games.
The Bobcats haven’t had someone of that makeup since Stephen Jackson was dealt to the Milwaukee Bucks.
“I don’t want to reinvent him – I want him to come in and make game-winning shots and work back from there. He can carry you sometimes,” coach Mike Dunlap said.
Dunlap hasn’t decided whether Gordon, entering his ninth NBA season, will start or come off the bench. But it seems a given he’ll be in the game in the fourth quarter, when the stakes rise and some players’ nerves fray.
Gordon feels validated that Dunlap already recognizes him as a closer. When did he first take on that persona?
“All the way back to CYO,” said Gordon, referring to youth basketball in New York City. “Making that last shot is something I’ve come to expect.”
And if he misses?
“Frankly, I don’t even think about missing. It does you no good to dwell on that,” said Gordon, who has averaged 16.5 points over his career. “Facing that risk/reward question is a lot better than just sitting there, and not doing anything to help.”
That quiet confidence is something the front office hopes rubs off on others. The three significant veteran acquisitions – Gordon, point guard Ramon Sessions and center Brendan Haywood – have significant playoff experience on other teams.
That’s not incidental. President of basketball operations Rod Higgins and general manager Rich Cho were looking for guys who could still play, but also be mentors. The Bobcats have six players with three or fewer NBA seasons who will likely be in the rotation.
“You need somebody who’s done it at the highest level,” Higgins said of Gordon. “He has a relentless work ethic. He should be the leader in that area, as far as on the court and in the locker room.”
Has Gordon taken to this mentoring role?
“He’s been nothing short of great, helping the coach as far as an extension of our philosophy,” Higgins said.
“Any time you’ve got a player to teach someone how to come off a screen, who can talk to a Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker – give them that small insight – that’s very valuable.”
Gordon said mentoring “comes naturally” to him and is as much about attitude as technical skill. Dunlap keeps reminding the players not to back down when the Miami Heat or Los Angeles Lakers show up. Gordon said that’s never been him.
“Confidence and consistency,” Gordon said. “That’s something I can keep nudging forward.”