Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Give him a call
By Ramona Shelburne
For now, Mike Dunleavy is OK with doing the complaining for him.
If there are technical fouls to be drawn in the name of getting Clippers guard Eric Gordon more calls and more respect around the NBA, his coach is content to be the guy taking them.
"It's my job right now," Dunleavy said. "I took one [technical foul] the other night for him because it was like, 'Come on, how did you miss that?' I have to help him out sometimes, at least bring some attention to it."
Although Gordon, 21, has easily solidified his position as one of the best young players in the NBA just one-third of the way through his second season, he has yet to earn much attention for it either in the public eye or in the eyes of the league's referees.
Gordon is averaging just 2½ trips to the free throw line per game, ranking 32nd in the league despite scoring 17.3 points a game. It isn't all that surprising considering he plays on a team that has gone 34-91 since he was drafted seventh overall out of Indiana, and he has the manners of a choir boy. But it remains an issue for a young player whose game is built on slashing to the basket, drawing contact and getting to the free throw line.
Take that part of his game away, the athleticism that makes him a budding superstar, and Gordon becomes a tentative jump-shooter.
"I think a lot of people around the league know how good he is," Dunleavy said. "I wish the referees did.
"We find a lot of times after the fact that the kid gets fouled, and he doesn't get calls for some reason. Which is really hard to figure out, other than he's just too nice and too quiet."
Although the referees were the object of Dunleavy's frustration during this particular rant, which came up because Gordon earned only one trip to the free throw line in nearly 32 minutes of a Christmas Day blowout loss to the Suns, it isn't the first time he's used the phrase "nice and quiet" as a pejorative when talking about Gordon.
Those traits, which make him the kind of person a franchise dreams of laying its foundation around, aren't always good on a basketball court.
Superstars in the NBA are both feared and loathed. They are assertive and loud, sometimes selfish and always a presence.
Gordon might play loudly, but he speaks politely and deferentially to referees, teammates and coaches. Which should be a good thing but sometimes has some unintended consequences.
"Our guys really respect him because he's such a great player and teammate," Dunleavy said. "But he's such a quiet kid, sometimes you hardly notice him. That's one of the things I'm always telling him, 'Eric, you've got to become more noticed.' Maybe it's just human nature, the squeaky-wheel theory."
Whatever the case, Gordon recognizes he needs to find a comfortable solution.
Maybe he shouldn't start talking like a truck driver or challenging Rasheed Wallace for the annual league lead in technical fouls, but a little bit of squeak might go a long way.
"I may have to say something at some point," Gordon said. "Because I like to draw a lot of contact when I play, so if you don't get calls, it kind of hurts. It's like a wasted possession."
For a second, it seems he might actually mean it -- that he's envisioning himself getting all worked up and T'd up after arguing a questionable call.
For a second.
Then he becomes the polite and humble kid from Indiana again and backs off.
"But I don't know, I don't know," he said. "I mean, if they're not going to give you calls, they may not ever give you calls even if you do complain."
Yep, sounds as though Dunleavy will be taking technicals to stick up for his young star for the foreseeable future.
In the Clippers' locker room, however, Gordon's lack of squeak is a good thing.
"He doesn't have to say too much," Clippers forward Rasual Butler said. "Especially on this team. Everyone knows that's just his demeanor.
"But everyone respects him. He's a second-year player, but when he's on the floor, we don't really look at him that way. He's a really good player. He's quick, fast, physical. He's got a really good understanding of how to score, of the game. I think his basketball IQ is pretty high.
"Last year when I played against him [as a member of the New Orleans Hornets], we all knew he was dangerous."
If only his game could do all the talking.
Ramona Shelburne is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com