Ben Gordon Still a Free Agent as Negotiations Begin


Jul 1

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Going, going, going, going…


It would seem to be for Bulls leading scorer and free agent guard Ben Gordon, who was expected to get a free agent offer from the Detroit Pistons early Wednesday morning.

Can Ben Gordon be a home run for some team?

The last I heard after watching South Park at midnight was that the Pistons had not made an offer to anyone yet. Though Chef’s mom had given $3.50 to get the Loch Ness monster to go away.

Teams cannot begin to officially sign players until July 8. But assuming Gordon does get an offer, Gordon would be playing still another game of high stakes financial and career poker.

For the last two offseasons, Gordon rejected contracts of at least $50 million from the Bulls. It’s proven a huge mistake as Gordon now has been hoping just to realize that kind of money. Gordon has continued to send signals to the Bulls he wants to remain with the team because of his confidence in the team’s future and his comfort with the city of Chicago. The Bulls haven’t rejected the idea.

But Gordon may have cost himself that chance with his previous contract rejections because the Bulls seemed to have moved on. The first key step was the acquisition last February of John Salmons and Brad Miller.

Though no one talked about it at the time, it was clear Salmons was brought in not only to enhance the team but as insurance in case Gordon left as a free agent. Salmons moved over to small forward with the injury to Luol Deng. But with an outspoken emphasis on improved defense for next season, it would seem a backcourt of Derrick Rose and Salmons with Deng at small forward would be better suited toward that defensive goal than playing Gordon at shooting guard.

In addition, Kirk Hinrich would seem to be an ideal combo backup guard for point guard and shooting guard. It also would enable the Bulls, especially when Hinrich plays with Salmons, to be in better position to switch the pick and roll and enhance the defense, the kind of tactic coach Vinny Del Negro seems to prefer.

The Bulls also continued in an additional new direction, which emphasizes financial flexibility for the February 2010 trading deadline when a team like Toronto might be ready to deal someone like Chris Bosh. Or the big summer free agency of 2010 when the likes of Bosh, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson and Dirk Nowitzki can become free agents.

The Bulls have accumulated $25 million in expiring contracts to be in position in 2010 and it is a franchise priority now to retain that flexibility. The Bulls are not going to endanger that by resigning Gordon. Also, a sign and trade seems unlikely since the Bulls would have to take back an equal salary. And if they did, why not keep Gordon?

The other factor is the luxury tax, which will go into effect this season at about $69 million, though the exact amount will not be known until next week. The Bulls payroll now is close to $68 million with the guaranteed deals on the books, the slots for the two rookie first round picks and the so called cap hold for the roster spots to get to the minimum 13 players. The Bulls also tendered a qualifying offer to retain or match on Aaron Gray. So the Bulls are around $1 million below the luxury tax line, which they are not likely to exceed.

The luxury tax isn’t computed until after the 2009-10 season, so the Bulls could be over all season as long as they get under before the end of the season. Which effectively means by the trading deadline. But it is highly doubtful a team will be able to unload a player to a team under the salary cap next season when so many teams will be racing to have salary cap room for the 2010 free agent year. Teams that do absorb deals to help a team generally ask for one of two first round picks to do so. The Suns had to give up two firsts to get Seattle to take Kurt Thomas. The price usually is too severe to be worth taking the risk. And if you cannot unload the salary and get below the tax threshold, it could cost a team up to $20 million. And then the Bulls might not be able to consider a big deal for someone like Wade or Bosh in 2010.

And, if you are the Bulls, frankly, you have to look at it like you tried your best with Gordon with two years of generous offers. And it’s hardly fatal to lose him given a good three-guard rotation with Salmons and Hinrich, certainly better defensively and bigger, and with rookie James Johnson having a good chance to provide significant minutes backing up what the Bulls hope will be a healthy Deng. Of course, the Bulls would take a step back without Gordon if Deng cannot play. But that is not expected.

Meanwhile, can Gordon afford to gamble on missing out on still another long term deal?

His plan seems to be to get an offer and then see if the Bulls are still interested. But that is risky for Gordon because if a team like the Pistons or Oklahoma City Thunder, a possible suitor, believes Gordon is shopping an offer, they could back off. The rumors have been Detroit would go for Gordon and the Bucks’ Charlie Villanueva. But it would seem what they most need is front court size. So maybe they change course and go for, say, Hedo Turkoglu and Paul Millsap or David Lee. Then Gordon could be out of luck and coming back to the Bulls with no offer.

The Bulls still would be in the same financial situation, though if they could get Gordon for a bargain, they’d have to seriously consider it. But having passed on two significant offers, would Gordon be the good team guy if he came back on a wholesale deal he felt was too low?

If I were Gordon, if someone made me a major offer, I’d take it on the spot and say I was committed. Teams generally never back off once that happens even though the deal cannot be official until July 8. How could he risk having nowhere to go. If that occurred, I’d probably go for a short deal if I were Gordon, maybe a year with an option to protect me if I were injured, and then get back into free agency next season when more teams will have money under the cap.

The bluffing and basketball poker all started at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. Sadly, Kenny became a fatality (South Park reference). I know. I have to grow up. But then how would I relate to Joakim Noah?

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