Sam Smith: Fate of Gordon soon to be decided

The Bulls hope to present a stronger defensive identity next season, writes Sam Smith. So perhaps they wouldn't as much miss Ben Gordon's 20 points per game because they'd be giving up fewer with a three guard rotation of Rose, Hinrich and Salmons.
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Free agency fate of Gordon soon to be decided

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Ben Gordon
The fate of Ben Gordon, the Bulls leading scorer the last four consecutive seasons—only Michael Jordan and Bob Love have done so in franchise history—begins to get decided this week.

So this is it. The fate of Ben Gordon, the Bulls' leading scorer the last four consecutive seasons—only Michael Jordan and Bob Love have done so in franchise history—begins to get decided this week.

Gordon, as we know, is an unrestricted free agent, having rejected deals of $50 million for five years and $54 million for six years the last two off-seasons. So it cannot be said the Bulls haven't tried to sign him. But when Gordon balked last fall, Gordon said the Bulls pulled the final offer and didn't reinstate it when Gordon changed his mind. The Bulls say they want to retain Gordon and Gordon hasn't said he doesn't want to be a former Bull.

It seems, though, with speculated interest from the Detroit Pistons and some uneasiness between the Gordon camp and the Bulls that Gordon will become a former Bull.

We all know his flaws: Defensive issues, ballhandling issues, overdribbling issues, size issues. That is a lot of issues. Perhaps half the mail I get, surprisingly, suggests the Bulls move on without him.

I'd try to keep him, which would mean dealing Kirk Hinrich. The thinking among some is Hinrich's versatility is more important because he can back up Derrick Rose and also play shooting guard and defend guards and small forwards. The Bulls hope to present a stronger defensive identity next season. So perhaps they wouldn't as much miss Gordon's 20 points per game because they'd be giving up fewer with a three guard rotation of Rose, Hinrich and John Salmons. More size, more tenacity.

It's a reasonable theory and may be the right one.

I just think Gordon is such a unique talent you'd spend more time trying to replace someone like him than, say, someone like Hinrich. I do like Hinrich and have long been a champion. I also believe he is good enough he should start in the NBA. He never will again with Rose. I believe he'd be the good soldier and accept that third guard role. But how long would his heart be in it?

More significantly is free agency 2010.

I believe the Bulls are well positioned with expiring contracts to make a major move at next February's trade deadline or next summer. But one thing we learned from free agency 2000 (Tracy McGrady, Eddie Jones, etc) was players want to be where they can have success. The Bulls are better now than they were then with Rose, John Salmons, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng. But the Eastern Conference also is improving. I believe you are at a disadvantage in trying to attract a free agent if you do not make the playoffs. Consider how the Bulls are viewed now after the Boston series compared to if they hadn't made the playoffs.

It doesn't look like any who made the playoffs are falling back (plus the 76ers get Elton Brand back), and Washington, Toronto, Charlotte and perhaps Milwaukee if Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd return all appear better. Plus, it doesn't appear anyone will challenge Boston, Cleveland and Orlando on top. It won't be easy to make the playoffs.

Gordon could leave and not even give the Bulls a chance to make an offer and then all this is moot. Of course, Detroit could go for Hedo Turkoglu and Carlos Boozer and then Gordon might not have any offer at all above the approximately $5 million exception. So it's a big gamble for him as well.

Perhaps the main issue for the Bulls is salary. They are currently at $63 million for next season. They'll be over the salary cap, so they cannot compete for free agents other than with their exception. The luxury tax is the key amount and teams won't know that until about July 8. It was about $71 million last season and is expected to go down to around $69 million. I am not a believer in exceeding it unless you have a legitimate chance to compete for a championship now. I don't expect the Bulls will exceed the threshold this season.

So a major offer to Gordon is out of the question. You have until the end of the season to get under the luxury tax line, so you can take a chance. Though few teams are taking contracts now, especially with the big 2010 free agency. The Bulls move to make a substantial offer to Gordon would be to trade Hinrich.

The obvious place is Portland, which is said to be interested. The Trail Blazers have talked openly about upgrading at point guard with a veteran and Hinrich and 76ers free agent Andre Miller are said to be targets. Portland has about $7 million in cap space, which might be enough to start Miller at a long term deal. Though the way they play, it would seem Hinrich would fit better being younger and more defensive oriented and a better long distance shooter.

The Trail Blazers could absorb most of Hinrich's contract and throw in a player to even the money, maybe a guard like Jerryd Bayless or Steve Blake. The Bulls then could get their backup for Rose and stay enough under the luxury tax to make a significant offer to Gordon. Though it is a lot of ifs and other teams cooperating. And it's not like retaining Gordon and losing Hinrich guarantees a playoff spot. But defenses react to Gordon. Boston had four guys chasing him by Game 5 in the playoffs, which left Brad Miller stunningly alone for that famous foul by Rajon Rondo. Gordon drives Bulls fans nuts sometimes. But you'd also hate to have to play against him.

Shaky start to free agency period

--The draft last week was the appetizer, though the big trades involving Shaq, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson made it a big week in the NBA, especially in the Eastern Conference with the Cavs and Magic moves. Now comes free agency starting midnight Wednesday morning, though it could be a shaky start. One GM in the market warned it's not going to be like it was, when teams made first night midnight raids and guys like Tom Chambers was signed a minute into the period. Of course, there's a moratorium period now. But the big issue is the new salary cap and luxury tax figures, which teams won't get until about July 8. Because so many teams are close to the luxury tax there figures to be hesitation on offering a salary cap exception deal until teams know the exact amount. Even teams like Detroit with loads of cap room figure to want to know how much room they'll exactly have before making offers, presumably to two players. So it could be a slow start this week. Here's a look at the top free agents and their possibilities:

Carlos Boozer: He'd be walking away from $12.7 million to opt out. The belief is he's headed to Detroit. The Jazz likely hopes he opts out to make offers to Mehmet Okur and Paul Millsap to return.

Ben Gordon: Probably choice No. 2 for the Pistons. There's some speculation it could be Hedo Turkoglu if he opts out and leaves $7.4 million on the table. Though Pistons GM Joe Dumars won two titles with small, high scoring guards.

Hedo Turkoglu: Seems with the Vince Carter deal they admitted they won't bring him back. Detroit's an outside possibility and Portland could make an offer with no true small forward. Perhaps Toronto if they renounce Marion. The market just isn't great as well as he did in the playoffs.

Shawn Marion: Still could return to Toronto, perhaps in a one-year deal until it's clear what will happen with Chris Bosh.

Jason Kidd: He's been mentioned as an exception deal with the Lakers and Cavs, though he'll probably take the money and remain in Dallas.

Ron Artest: Seems best suited with Rick Adelman and probably will resign in Houston. They really want to deal Tracy McGrady and that could figure in.

Lamar Odom: Coming off the championship, they figure to do what's necessary to keep him. He also said he'd take less to return and is likely not a major option for teams like Detroit under the cap. Same for Trevor Ariza, though he's less certain to return. He'd be wise to unless he gets a huge offer.

Rasheed Wallace: Detroit probably tries a sign and trade so Wallace can get more than the exception and the Pistons can get a piece back. You need a contending team or he brings everyone down. The Cavs, Spurs and Magic have been mentioned.

Antonio McDyess: Everyone assumes he has some promise to resign in Detroit. But after last season the Pistons cannot afford sentimentality. Many of the aforementioned same top teams are possibilities and he could get most of an exception, though maybe for two years.

Anderson Varejao: The Cavs spend money, so they could bring him back. He makes some sense alongside Shaq as someone has to rebound. But he still doesn't have to be guarded which allows too much attention to Shaq. You can see them letting him go and going for Rasheed.

Grant Hill: He seems like he wants to stay in Phoenix and probably will do so cheaply. Less likely is Matt Barnes, though he is a mistake type player despite the hustle.

Andre Miller: He's a big question mark as he seems to want to leave. The rumors have been he goes into about $7 million of Portland cap room if they don't deal for Kirk Hinrich.

Mike Bibby: The Hawks drafted a point guard and traded for Jamal Crawford in anticipation of losing Bibby, who could end up in Philadelphia to buy time for rookie Jrue Holiday.

Joe Smith: It never was quite clear why the Cavs didn't use him more in the playoffs. He does have knee problems, but he figures to get a veteran minimum from a contending team like Boston or San Antonio.

Flip Murray: He was a key pickup for the Hawks when Jannero Pargo overplayed his hand and ended up with no deal and had to go to Europe. He probably will stay along with Marvin Williams, a restricted free agent whom they'd likely match.

Marcin Gortat: The Magic backup boosted his value in the playoffs, though Bulls fans knew with good runs against them in the regular season. The Magic insist they'll go well onto the luxury tax to make a run with their principal owner 83 and a heart transplant recipient. They got overwhelmed by the Lakers size and could keep him. Difficult to see a major offer.

Anthony Parker: Toronto drafted a shooting guard, but DeMar DeRozan isn't ready and the Raptors like Parker. Probably will stay.

Desmond Mason: Not what he was. Lots of injuries and probably not much market in this economy.

Charlie Villanueva: The Bucks look like with drafting a point guard and trading Jefferson they'll try to keep him and let go Ramon Sessions. It's not tampering, but this is what Villanueva, the famous halftime Twitterer, wrote on his Twitter: "Shaq to Cleveland, nice. All Cleveland need(s) is a PF now."

Channing Frye: Portland hardly played him so he could figure in a deal if he doesn't get an offer and they retain his rights.

David Lee/Nate Robinson: The Knicks certainly don't want to pay Robinson and would let him go. They'd like to retain Lee, but someone could keep them from matching with a big offer. Seems unlikely, though.

Glen Davis/Leon Powe: Powe has no market with surgery. Davis had an excellent playoffs and could draw interest. The Celts let James Posey go last summer for money reasons. They don't spent wildly, but is he worth a full exception? Doesn't seem so and few teams will be spending theirs this summer. Only about five did last summer.

Wally Szczerbiak: It's probably over.

Allen Iverson: Ditto.

Ray Felton: Michael Jordan made pretty clear they aren't letting him go as he came on strong last season.

Chris Andersen: The overhyped Birdman will draw interest and Denver doesn't like to spend. He's hardly worth a full exception. They're close to the luxury tax and likely will let him go if he gets an offer. Same with Linas Kleiza.

Brandon Bass: The Mavs undersized rebounder is intriguing, though the Mavs insist they won't have their players signed away.

Jarrett Jack: The Pacers were said to be looking for a point guard in the draft before settling on Tyler Hansbrough. He'd probably be available.

Chris Wilcox: He's been an underachieving guy most everywhere. Probably won't get more than part of an exception.

Shannon Brown: Came on nicely as a backup for the Lakers and figures to stay at a reasonable price.

Hakim Warrick: He came on surprisingly well this season, though is limited and just a decent, undersized role player. Memphis probably wouldn't match an offer, though one would be unlikely.

Stephon Marbury: Hello, Europe.

Year of the point guard

-- The story of the draft was the Minnesota Timberwolves' picks of point guards Ricky Rubio and Jonny Flynn, both good players, no doubt. No one thinks the two can play together despite Timberwolves GM David Kahn likening them to Joe Dumars and Isiah Thomas or Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge or Jerry West and Gail Goodrich or Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe, championship point guard tandems. Now that's expectations. Most now doubt Rubio comes to the NBA this season, and you don't get much when teams believe you have to trade a guy, which seems the case now with Rubio. Kahn has said the Timberwolves are in no hurry as Rubio is 18 and will eventually play in the NBA. Though it could be a long season after giving up on two rotation players for the right to draft Rubio. The Timberwolves, actually, were making a nice move back until Al Jefferson was hurt and appear to be starting over. It's likely now Kahn hires TV commentator and former player Mark Jackson, who'll be a good ambassador for the franchise given his high public profile and popularity among TV types he's worked with. It's one reason teams like to hire TV commentators: Their friends remain behind and say nice things about them on the national broadcasts. Quickly unretired, Del Harris threw his name in for the coaching position. If Jackson gets it, Mike Fratello and Bill Laimbeer are supposed to be on the staff. Kahn then issued a statement to season ticket holders through the local newspaper and said Rubio would be the starting point guard "the moment he walks through the door," which Flynn must have loved. But he's a tough guy and probably takes it as a challenge.

Kerr catching heat in Phoenix

-- Tough times for Opie Taylor as a poll in the Arizona Republic had 80 percent in favor of Steve Kerr being moved on. Kerr, the savvy NBA veteran, did get caught in the middle a bit. Which is quietly the toughest part of being a GM. You represent your owner and quietly take the hits and you try to get along with a coach who sees his mission to win the next game no matter what the organization feels. "Team-wise, it didn't pan out as we hoped," Kerr told Phoenix media after the Shaq trade. "I believe, if you have a chance, you go for it and we knew that team before the (Shaq) deal was not going anywhere in the playoffs because of our lack of size in the front court and we were starting to decline a little bit. You can make the argument that we should have let that team go, let it tail off and then make a move. I know I'd be taking a lot less heat right now if that had been the case." No one should feel sorry for anyone making seven figures. And Kerr, no matter what happens in Phoenix, always will be in demand for NBA television jobs. Kerr had been an advisor to new owner Robert Sarver, who asked Kerr to be GM. Kerr initially refused, but eventually decided to take a shot. His plan was to do nothing. After all, the Suns were a 60-win team, if not ultimately successful. But Sarver was starting to lose money with the early playoff departures and reportedly ordered Kerr to trade Kurt Thomas, later picked up by the rival Spurs. Kerr had to throw in draft picks to get the Supersonics to take the salary. But basketball wise it was the first thread. Kerr had wanted to add some defensive intentions, but coach Mike D'Antoni wasn't thrilled with Kerr as Kerr took his job as general manager, which D'Antoni got when Jerry Colangelo left. So when Kerr offered some minor suggestions, D'Antoni blew up and a rift began. D'Antoni now felt displaced and hurt and his departure was inevitable from the moment Sarver demoted him in favor of Kerr. D'Antoni then rightly noted the team was too small to compete. Meanwhile, Sarver, who has been known to wave a foam finger from his courtside seat, had become enamored with the idea of having Shaq. Hey, Shaq plays for me! The Heat was desperate to be rid of Shaq and Heat owner Mickey Arison contacted Sarver. Sarver was thrilled, but told Kerr to examine the possibility. Kerr was hesitant, but D'Antoni was effusive. D'Antoni likely figured he was leaving, anyway, and he was right that now with the Thomas deal they were too small. He advised strongly to take a shot. The owner was thrilled. Kerr clearly didn't feel confident enough just into the job to say no to his powerful owner and successful coach. And it wasn't like it was a championship team anymore. We know what happened. Maybe if Tim Duncan hasn't stole that first playoff game in 2008. But D'Antoni left, Amar'e Stoudemire got hurt again, Steve Nash pouted because Shaq turned him into a post feeder and the Suns now are rebuilding. Stoudemire is expected to be traded this summer. Phoenix is a popular destination for free agents and they will have money to spend. So they can recover. But there were a lot of lessons learned. The main one: Don't mess with a good thing.

As for Amar'e...

-- So what of Stoudemire? The strong rumor last week was he was going to Golden State, and the Suns were convinced when the Warriors drafted Stephen Curry while already having Monta Ellis. But then the Warriors decided they liked Curry too much to trade him. The deal was to include Curry with Andris Bierdins and Brandan Wright. Talks have been going on since February, so it may still happen. The rumors out of Detroit are the Pistons still want to make a splash and will put together a package for Stoudemire. The Pistons want to move Tayshaun Prince, though they seem now more interested in adding through free agency. They're a team to watch. The Rockets have been mentioned, though they'd hardly seem to have the size and youth the Suns desire. OK, the Bulls? Based on the talk thus far—and the Suns have to cash in after giving up Shaq for basically nothing—they'd likely demand a package similar to Golden State's, which would mean something like Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah and maybe Hinrich or the two draft picks, though the Suns passed on both. I don't see the Bulls involved for several reasons. Stoudemire is a risk with having had microfracture surgery and lately eye surgery and demanding a max deal, which would start at over $17 million. He's a locker room lone wolf. Not necessarily a distraction, but mostly on his own with his own scoring agenda. You cannot commit to any defensive philosophy as he doesn't play much defense and doesn't rebound well. He was ideal with Mike D'Antoni, but they clashed constantly. You'd likely need a strong coach and strong team leaders with a player like that. The Bulls seem much too young to handle that kind of player. Though you'd love to see Stoudemire and Rose running the court and the pick and roll.

What's wrong with Rondo?

-- Bulls fans knew there was something wrong with that Rajon Rondo. It turns out the fans and media in Boston were a bit naïve. You rarely hear a team run down its player like Boston did with Rondo, who was rumored in various trade scenarios. It doesn't look he's being dealt, and it seems more unlikely because Boston certainly didn't help his value. Rondo's agent, Billy Duffy, took exception to GM Danny Ainge saying in a radio interview Rondo has "got to grow up, his presence hurt us'' and he wasn't a "max contract player'' and that Rondo was fined for being late to postseason games. And the league still won't give him that flagrant for the Game 5 foul on Brad Miller. The Celts probably would have. Rondo almost averaged a triple double in the playoffs—16.9 points, 9.8 asssts and 9.7 rebounds, and becomes a restricted free agent next summer if the Celtics don't sign him to an extension this fall. They are not expected to. ... Maybe Darko Milicic has found a home. I remember talking to then Suns coach Mike D'Antoni when Tim Thomas got there about Thomas' reputation as a big man who shoots a lot from the outside and isn't a practice player. No problem, D'Antoni said, we don't practice or play defense. Thomas had a terrific stretch run there. D'Antoni likes big men who can shoot and run and doesn't worry about defense. Sounds like Darko. ... Old buddy Tyson Chandler was one backup plan for the Cavs if they couldn't get Shaq and now is supposedly on the Suns radar for Ben Wallace. It's not like either went on to haunt the Bulls upon leaving, anyway.

NBA news and notes

-- So this is team No. 5 for Shaq with the last three, the Lakers, Heat and Suns anxious to move the future Hall of Fame center. It's almost unprecedented in NBA history for a player as decorated to have been with so many teams and moved so often. Only Moses Malone among the top 50 played for more teams. ... Orlando GM Otis Smith has been quiet about his comments two years ago about acquiring central Florida native Vince Carter. Said Smith then: "I'm not going to take a step back and fall for what I call fool's gold. It shines and it glitters, but it just doesn't stick or pass the test." ... Here's a reason the Heat cannot be too sure about retaining Dwyane Wade. USA Basketball invited 25 young prospects to begin the process of getting into the so called Olympic pipeline. Beasley was the only top five draft pick from last year not invited and also invited instead of him were: D.J. Augustin, Jerryd Bayless, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and Thaddeus Young. Not a great vote of confidence. Teammate Mario Chalmers also wasn't invited. Both are said to frustrate Wade with their immaturity. Miami reportedly tried to trade both to Memphis for draft picks. The belief is they have to deal both before next year to retain Wade. ... Richard Jefferson on going to the Spurs: "You just want to be relevant again." Ouch. The Spurs enhanced their reputation as a shrewd franchise with the fortunate pick of DeJuan Blair at No, 37. He was rejected by team doctors throughout the league. But he's a heck of a second round pick and certainly has plenty of motivation now. And it's still hard to forget he got 22 points and 23 points against Hasheem Thabeet last February. But everyone passed him and no one tried to trade into the first round to get him. His knees must be very bad. Pitt teammate Sam Young also fell into the second round at No. 36 to Memphis and may be a very good pick there. ... The Suns again got the other guy. Last season they drafted Brook Lopez' brother Robin and last week drafted Blake Griffin's brother, Taylor. ... In something you rarely seen done, the Rockets spent $6 million to buy three second round picks for Central Florida guard Jermaine Taylor, Real Madrid point guard prospect Sergio Llull and Arizona forward Chase Budinger. They're also said among the teams interested in acquiring Ricky Rubio from Minnesota... brutal mistake as Clippers owner Donald Sterling overruled his staff and rejected a trade of Zach Randolph to Memphis. With Randolph in the post it virtually makes No. 1 pick Blake Griffin an after thought. Though you can see that deal resurfacing if the Grizzlies remain interested, surprisingly, in taking on the extra contract years for Randolph. Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley believes the Grizzlies now could compete for a playoff spot if they had a scorer like Randolph with the addition of Thabeet. ... As coach of the Chicago Bulls in 1980, Jerry Sloan (and then GM Rod Thorn) released East Carolina fourth-round draft pick George Maynor. His son, Eric, was born seven years later and was the Jazz' first round draft pick Thursday.


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