Clippers' Gordon seeks U.S. spot
LAS VEGAS -- The world continues to wait on Blake Griffin's return to game action after knee surgery, but another bright young star for the Los Angeles Clippers has an outside shot of showing what he's got at the FIBA World Championships in Turkey next month.
Eric Gordon, coming off a sophomore NBA season in which he improved his per-game averages in scoring (16.9 points), passing (3.0 assists) and defense (1.1 steals), played well enough at USA Basketball tryouts this week that he still has a shot to make the senior men's national team.
"It's always good to be a part of this and compete," Gordon said Friday after scoring on both outside shots and tough transition baskets in the full-court scrimmage against the USA Select team. "I definitely want to make this team. I thought this week was pretty solid for me so hopefully I get a chance to make it."
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said Gordon came on strong as the week progressed and added the coaching staff will need the extra evaluation period from Saturday's Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage to get a better feel for the 6-foot-3, 222-pound guard from Indiana.
"Eric Gordon was terrific," Colangelo said, before praising the defense of Gordon, who has made his mark in the NBA as an offensive marksman. "We thought we had some good defensive people in '08 in the backcourt. I'll tell you right now, guys that we have in the backcourt here like Gordon, like [Derrick] Rose, like [Rajon] Rondo, like [Russell] Westbrook, they were terrific. We're going to really utilize that."
Gordon said it took some time to get comfortable with the international game.
"As far as attacking and making shots [I got better as the week went on]," Gordon said. "As far as the first few days, it's new for everybody to come here with the international [rules] and get used to things, but I came on pretty strong later in the week."
One Western Conference executive who watched the week of practice surmised head coach Mike Krzyzewski would take four point guards on the final 12-man roster -- Rose, Rondo, Westbrook and Chauncey Billups -- leaving Gordon stiff competition in Memphis' O.J. Mayo and Golden State's Stephen Curry for the fifth guard spot as the unofficial designated shooter. Sacramento's Tyreke Evans is not expected to make the cut, sitting out Friday's practice because of a left ankle injury.
"We're all pretty friendly," Gordon said about the competition. "We're not even thinking about it. We're just out there playing and we'll see what happens at the end."
The 2008 Olympic team carried six guards because the team was light on big men, taking only Orlando's Dwight Howard as a true center. This year's team has three true centers vying for positions -- Dallas' Tyson Chandler, Washington's JaVale McGee and New Jersey's Brook Lopez -- and all are expected to make the next pool of invitees for the final training period in New York from Aug. 9-16.
Judging the talented crop of young guards has been a challenge for the coaching staff all week.
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"I'd rather not say it's a point guard competition, because, say, Rose and Westbrook could play together," Krzyzewski said this week. "This isn't a chart, where if this guy's picked, this guy's not. I'd rather look at the guards together, and whether we take four or five of them depends on the chemistry and what we want to do."
Gordon said the camp has helped him polish his point guard skills, something that could pay off for the Clippers next season.
"I've played a lot of point guard out here with this type of talent and I think I'll be able to adapt later on," Gordon said. "I'll probably play a little more 1 this year because we don't have that many point guards so I'll adapt to doing that a little bit."
Speaking of next season, Gordon said he has gotten off to a fast start with new coach Vinny Del Negro, and while he said it's "hard to have expectations" for next season, he does expect change.
"It's got to be [a fresh start]," Gordon said. "With a new team and a new coach it's going to be very different."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers and Clippers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.