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With Deng deal done, Gordon next big issue
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Staff

Bulls guard Ben Gordon kicks off Bulls youth camp at the Lisle training academy.

 

Tanit Jarusan | Staff Photographer

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Published: 7/31/2008 12:05 AM

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Luol Deng's new $71 million contract is a done deal, with a news conference scheduled this morning at the Berto Center.

So now the biggest question facing the Bulls is whether they'll have enough money left to re-sign their other significant restricted free agent, guard Ben Gordon.

Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has been adamant about not paying the NBA's luxury tax until the team is of championship caliber. The tax will kick in next season if the Bulls' payroll exceeds $71.15 million.

After adding Deng's new deal, which starts at $9.4 million, the Bulls have a cushion of about $7.86 million to pay Gordon's first-year salary.

Stretch that over six years with 10.5 percent raises and it falls just below a total of $60 million. The Bulls believe that's a fair deal for their leading scorer. Whether Gordon feels the same way is anyone's guess.

"We will continue to talk to Ben's representative (Raymond Brothers) and look for ways to get him signed," general manager John Paxson said in an e-mail statement.

"Every contract and negotiation is different, but we value Ben and respect the part he has played for us the past four seasons and certainly want him to be a part of our future as well."

The issue with Gordon isn't so much whether he deserves more than $9.9 million per season but whether he can get a better contract from another team, either in the NBA or Europe.

So far, the sign-and-trade interest in Gordon has been minimal. But if he wants to test the open market next summer, when several NBA teams will have cap room, his one-year qualifying offer is worth $6.4 million, not far below the $7.86 million the Bulls have left to pay for the coming season. A shorter contract length also has been discussed.

The Bulls continue to explore the trade market with other players. With Reinsdorf and director of player personnel Gar Forman taking a greater role in contract negotiations, Paxson has been freed up to talk trades with other teams.

The Bulls have had discussions with Sacramento about center Brad Miller, a league source confirmed, and were very interested in acquiring Nets center Nenad Krstic, most likely for Andres Nocioni, before Krstic jumped overseas to sign with Triumph Moscow.

The Bulls also have discovered some interest in guard Larry Hughes, as long as they're willing to take a big contract in return. Since the Bulls need to thin out their backcourt, some possibilities could include Portland's Joe Przybilla, New York's Jared Jeffries, Dallas' Erick Dampier or Denver's Kenyon Martin.

It took several months of negotiating, beginning last summer, before the Bulls and Deng agreed on a new contract averaging $11.8 million over six years, plus incentives. Paxson made it sound as though he thinks the 6-foot-8 forward is worth every penny.

"He is only 23 years old and one of the best young small forwards in the game," Paxson said. "So we are happy to have the contract done."