Sam Smith: Bulls’ backcourt among best in NBA

It's not just a matter of stopping Rose; it's stopping the Bulls' backcourt of him and Gordon that will be the Celtics' goal to win the series. Chicago's starting guards are about as good as they come in the league.

Sam Smith at

Bulls' backcourt of Rose and Gordon among best in NBA

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Coverage: 2009 Bulls Playoff Central

Ben Gordon
Gordon said he realizes this could be his last playoffs with the Bulls, but that he plans to retain all options and hasn't made any decisions regarding his future.

(Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images)

When the Bulls were battling to hold off the Boston Celtics down the stretch in regulation of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoffs Saturday, it was Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon scoring 23 of the Bulls 26 fourth quarter points.

The backcourt pair was eight of 14 while the rest of the team was one of 10. They hit all six of their free throws, three each.

For the game, they combined for 56 of the team's 105 points, shooting a combined 18 for 36 and converting 19 of 20 free throws between them of the team's 20 of 22. They had 16 of the team's 20 assists.

It's not just stopping Rose, who was the star of Saturday's game with 36 points. It's stopping the Bulls' backcourt.

That will be the Celtics' goal to win the series, keeping a Chicago backcourt which may be one of the best in the NBA in check.

Could it be?

And could this be the last we see of it?

Gordon is an unrestricted free agent after the season and can seek a new deal with any team. There's been talk of the Bulls re-signing him, or a sign-and-trade deal or Gordon just leaving with compensation. The latter option is in question because of so few teams below the salary cap, though the Pistons have said to have interest. Others that do are mostly losing teams, like Memphis and Oklahoma City. Good teams, like Cleveland, could offer an exception deal starting at about $5 million, presumably much less than the Bulls would offer.

Gordon said he realizes this could be his last playoffs with the Bulls, but that he plans to retain all options and hasn't made any decisions regarding his future.

Both Rose and Gordon say they enjoy playing together and feel they complement one another well.

"I'm happy he's here," says Rose. "He opens the lane. Everybody has to stick. You can't double team knowing you cannot leave him open. He can get hot real quick. I'm happy I'm playing with him now and I hope he's here for awhile."

Said Gordon of Rose: "I think we have a luxury to have a backcourt like me and Derrick. You have two players who can make big plays in key situations in the game. I know early in my career that was something we struggled with. Having multiple guys out there who can make plays. Everyone knew I was always going to take the last shot. Now you have someone like Derrick who can make a big play or get an easy basket at the end of the game. I definitely love playing with him and I want to win."

But business is business, and the Bulls and Gordon agreed last summer to pursue business after this season.

"I thought about that (it being the last run with the Bulls) the day I signed the tender," said Gordon. "That this could be the last year because it's a one year deal. It's not an extension. In actuality it could be my last year playing basketball (because of no contract)."

Gordon then paused for effect.

"No, just joking," he laughed.

"But anytime you're put in a position like this that's the reality," said Gordon. "I've always said my options are open. I never close any doors. Obviously, I want to win. That's always my priority. It's tough to say now when you don't know what's going to happen. I think it's an organization chance to see what they want to do.

"I'm disappointed by the way they handled everything," said Gordon "But at the end of the day it's a business. Sometimes you have to separate your emotions from what the business is. I feel I can do that. Like I said, I haven't closed any options. You don't forget things that happened. But you have to separate your feelings from yourself. There are two sides to it.

"It's hard to find a team with two guys who can control the game in the fourth quarter and make plays. It's something to think about (for both sides)."

So how good are Rose and Gordon? They are the second highest scoring backcourt combination in the NBA. They averaged a combined 37.5 points per game, second to Devin Harris and Vince Carter at 42.1 per game. Yet, the Nets didn't make the playoffs and Carter is on the downhill side of his career.

The best guards are Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul. But none plays with a high level partner. Derek Fisher is arguably the best, but isn't a big scorer and also toward the end of his career. Perhaps you'd take Joe Johnson and Mike Bibby. Brandon Roy is a higher scorer, but Steve Blake long has been a backup. Tony Parker also scores more, and if he played regularly with Manu Ginobili, they'd probably be No. 1. But Roger Mason starts. You might make a case for Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, but Arenas missed most of this season.

Here's a look at the top backcourts in the NBA and one possible ranking:

  1. Lakers: Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant
  2. Bulls: Derrick Rose and Ben Gordon
  3. Atlanta: Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson
  4. Boston: Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen
  5. New Jersey: Devin Harris and Vince Carter
  6. New Orleans: Chris Paul and Rasual Butler
  7. Utah: Deron Williams and Ronnie Brewer
  8. Miami: Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade
  9. Phoenix: Steve Nash and Jason Richardson
  10. San Antonio: Tony Parker and Roger Mason
  11. Portland: Steve Blake and Brandon Roy
  12. Denver: Chauncey Billups and Dahntay Jones
  13. Detroit: Rodney Stuckey and Richard Hamilton
  14. Charlotte: Ray Felton and Raja Bell
  15. Philadelphia: Andre Miller and Willie Green
  16. Houston: Aaron Brooks and Ron Artest
  17. Cleveland: Mo Williams and Delonte West
  18. Sacramento: Beno Udrih and Kevin Martin
  19. Toronto: Jose Calderon and Anthony Parker
  20. Dallas: Jason Kidd and Antoine Wright
  21. Clippers: Baron Davis and Eric Gordon
  22. Oklahoma City: Russell Westbrook and Thabo Sefolosha
  23. Golden State: Monta Ellis and Jamal Crawford (or any number of others)
  24. Memphis: Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo
  25. Washington: Mike James (Gilbert Arenas injured) and Caron Butler
  26. Indiana: Jarrett Jack and Brandon Rush
  27. Minnesota: Sebasian Telfair and Randy Foye
  28. New York: Chris Duhon and Wilson Chandler
  29. Orlando: Rafer Alston and Courtney Lee
  30. Milwaukee: Ramon Sessions and Luc Mbah a Moute (Michael Redd injured)

You cannot look too far ahead after one round. But maybe the breaks are going the Bulls way. With Kevin Garnett out, the Celtics obviously aren't the same. They're still considered favorites. But if the Bulls were to get through, it would be the Philadelphia-Orlando winner with the 76ers with the Game 1 win in Orlando. The Magic was predictably weakened as the Bulls thought when they were so disappointed to lose that last game to Toronto and not get an opening matchup with the Magic. It also further showed the pressure response of Derrick Rose with those two free throws with Andre Iguodala blowing two at the end before throwing in the winning shot. Former Bull Donyell Marshall was crucial with three three pointers to bring back the 76ers… the next Derrick Rose. Already? It's said to be John Wall, a 6' 4" guard from Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, N.C. He's supposedly going to Kentucky, but as a fifth year senior could try to make a case he's eligible for the NBA draft. One NBA personnel director told me he'd be the No. 2 pick in this draft behind Blake Griffin, and perhaps even No. 1.

Last call for Bosh in Toronto?

-- Chris Bosh didn't offer much in a closing statement that, "My employer right now is who it is right now. If rumors get started, I can't control that. Right now who I work for is who I play for." Speculation is the Raptors will try to add another high level player in some sign and trade deal for Shawn Marion, giving Bosh a base and a reason to stay. Some around Bosh believe he would prefer to remain as the top guy on a team rather than go somewhere as a caddy for, say, LeBron James. ... It didn't sound good for Chris Duhon's future in New York when coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters after the season: "I would say we need a playmaker, but we can solve that at different spots."

Time to get serious for Arenas

-- The Wizards have a brutally high payroll and probably will take one more shot at it if they can get Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood healthy. Many around the league are scratching their heads over the rumored $4.5 million annual deal for presumed coach Flip Saunders with payrolls expected to decline. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that Arenas says he's done being a clown: "We've just been a goofball team for a while. It's fun when you're winning. But when you're not winning, it's depressing a little bit. To be honest, I'm a goofball. But when I step inside those lines, it's serious. Some of them don't know how to turn that on and off. I know everyone thinks I'm going to be the big head case. But I don't fight with anybody. I don't fight with the coaches. I don't fight with the players. I don't really say anything. Only to the media. I'm just a hype man. It's all smoke and mirrors with me." Perhaps, but if you look at the teams that missed the playoffs in the East, some had major injuries, like Washington and Milwaukee, and Toronto way underachieved. If you don't get better next season, you could find yourself being passed up by someone.

Who cares about free food?

-- It wasn't just lost Big Macs in Chicago, which produced boos for Kirk Hinrich one night after a big game when the Bulls failed to get 100 points and trigger the free sandwich. Even LeBron James has felt it. Said James: "If we win, 99-20, don't boo us because you don't get a free chalupa. We want to bring you all a championship. Not tacos." I'm taking it as a sign of the bad economic times. If you're in free seats from a friend, you still need to buy food. ... You've got to give Cavs coach Mike Brown this. No one blames himself more. Brown generally runs to take blame after every Cavs loss lest someone may think James was at fault. Talking to Cleveland reporters about the team's improved offense, now handled by assistant John Kuester, Brown said: "Over the last three years we weren't good on offense mainly because of me. I wanted our guys to believe and smell and look like defenders. It is starting to evolve and it is starting to show how much work we have put it."

Bucks on the rise with CV

-- You always worry about a guy looking his best on his contract year, and the Bucks experienced that once before with Tim Thomas. But Charlie Villanueva settled down to become a solid contributor with Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut hurt and is a restricted free agent. The Bucks say they want to retain him. Villanueva averaged 16.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in 27 minutes per game. "I see this organization going in the right direction," Villanueva told Milwaukee media. "The players that were here, we were put in an unfortunate situation with Mike Redd and Bogues being out. I think we played to the best of our capabilities, and I think the coaching staff did a great job. You could see us fighting every game, hanging in and competing. I think something last year that was always in question was whether we were competing or not. This year that wasn't the case at all."The Bucks won eight more games than they did last season, but finished 4-16 to fall out of the playoff race. "I don't want the situation that happened to Ben Gordon to happen to me," Villanueva said. ... Traveled guard Luke Ridnour named his new son Traden. Does he know something about being dealt again?

NBA news and notes

-- Bad sign for the Spurs who lost to the Mavs at home Saturday despite 27 points from Tim Duncan, 24 from Tony Parker and 19 from Michael Finley. They made 11 of 14 threes and limited Dirk Nowitzi to 19. Reserve J.J. Berea, who started the second half for Antoine Wright, hounded Parker, who looked fatigued from trying to carry the team much of the season with Manu Ginobili hurt and Duncan having knee issues…Start breaking up the Hornets. It's just one game, but the aborted Tyson Chandler deal signaled major changes for the Hornets. Figure everyone but Chris Paul is available, though there are few takers for other than Chandler or David West. Shaquille O'Neal, who went to LSU, has added the Hornets to his summer shopping list with Dallas. Though I can't see the Suns taking on big contacts with Shaq having an expiring deal as most expect the Suns to begin shedding contracts and rebuilding this summer with owner Robert Sarver another with financial issues. It also raises the question of whether Amare Stoudemire will get the maximum extension he is seeking. Stoudemire is now saying he most wants to stay with the Suns. The Knicks want to take a run at Steve Nash to run Mike D'Antoni's offense, if only for 30 minutes per game. Good luck with what they'd got to trade. ... The Jazz figure to go quickly against the Lakers and then face the big opponent: Reality. If after a poor return from injury Carlos Boozer doesn't opt out, most teams believe the Jazz has little chance of retaining Paul Millsap. Mehmet Okur has an opt out, but it might not be smart to walk away from $9 million in this economy... The Knicks are expected to let go Nate Robinson, though most wonder how they can retain David Lee and still have the flexibility to seriously go into free agency. The Knicks insist they can. Which means trading Curry. Good luck with that.

-- There's that bit of college team with the Trail Blazers, who had a huge rally… for making the playoffs. So before their opener against Houston, the players were left quotes of Aaron Brooks saying the Rockets wanted to play Portland. Brooks had 27 and Houston blew out Portland in Portland. "There had to be a reason why he made that comment that he wanted to play us," said Brandon Roy. "There's something he (saw). We didn't do anything to put any doubt in his mind."… In the miserable Suns season, Grant Hill was, amazingly, an ironman, the only player to play every game and the oldest in the league to do so. Overall, 30 players did. Hill said he's already registered his daughter in school for the fall and intends to resign with the Suns. "You may not be the smartest kid but you can have perfect attendance," Hill said. Hill was the Suns' best defender (yes, faint praise). He shot 53.2 percent from the field, a career best that ranked 12th in the NBA. He averaged 11.8 points and 4.9 rebounds despite early-season as a reserve. ... Everyone who missed the playoffs has what ifs. The Suns, who were 10 over .500 and missed the playoffs, were chasing Dallas all season. But in the end it was a brutal overtime loss in Utah late when Matt Barnes, apparently not wanting to shoot free throws with the Jazz desperately fouling with seconds left, threw an inbounds pass away and the Jazz made a pair of miracle shots. If the Suns had won that game they'd have tied the Jazz and had the tiebreaker and Shaq would have opened the playoffs against Kobe. See, there are no conspiracies. Because if there were, everyone would have wanted that over the Jazz. Phoenix now has three of the four seasons in NBA history that included at least 46 wins and no playoff spot. The 1970-71 Suns (48-34) and 1971-72 Suns (49-33) missed the postseason when four of nine Western Conference teams qualified. In 25 years of 16-team playoffs, only Golden State's 48-34 season of a year ago had more wins without a playoff spot than this year's Suns. Only four Eastern Conference teams had a better record than Phoenix. The Suns became the first team in 51 years to miss the playoffs when it led the NBA in scoring and field-goal percentage. ... The Clippers closed the season on fan appreciation night with a 41-point loss.


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