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Columnist
Bulls, Gordon need to avert messy breakup
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist

Chicago Bulls guard Ben Gordon

 

Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

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Published: 9/2/2008 12:30 AM

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The NBA's summer began with seven significant restricted free agents sitting around waiting for some action.

Now with the start of training camp less than a month away, Luol Deng, Emeka Okafor, Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala, Monta Ellis and Andris Biedrins have re-signed with their current teams. That leaves just one of the seven still in a holding pattern - Bulls guard Ben Gordon.

Gordon has to be wondering why Isiah Thomas couldn't have lasted a few more months as president of the New York Knicks. Remember, Thomas stepped forward with sign-and-trade offers when ex-Bulls Eddy Curry and Jamal Crawford became restricted free agents but now is no longer in the picture.

To recap the situation, the Bulls are believed to be offering Gordon a six-year deal worth around $59 million. Gordon's camp is asking for more like $12 million a year, since the 6-foot-2 guard has been the team's leading scorer for the past three seasons.

Gordon said recently he expects a sign-and-trade to happen, but there hasn't even been a credible rumor floating around to suggest any NBA team is hot on his trail. That doesn't mean a sign-and-trade will never occur, but in this case, no smoke probably means no fire.

League sources continue to suggest there is little to no action on the Gordon trade market. Because of collective- bargaining rules that make it difficult to trade a player in the first year after signing a larger contract, Gordon could not be traded by himself. More players would have to be involved.

So even if there is a team willing to meet Gordon's asking price, that team must also be ready to take someone like Larry Hughes or Andres Nocioni in the deal and send some useful players back to the Bulls. Shouldn't be a problem, right?

Well, there is a way out of this mess. Both sides just need to understand how much they need each other. The Bulls need a quality 3-point shooter and Gordon doesn't figure to get any better options than re-signing with the team that drafted him No. 3 in 2004.

The whole idea behind selecting a dynamic point guard such as Derrick Rose is he'll get open shots for his teammates. So naturally, a strong outside shooter such as Gordon is a necessity.

Gordon led the Bulls last year in 3-pointers (142) and 3-point percentage (.410). As a team, though, the Bulls ranked just 23rd in 3-point baskets per game (5.8), while 11 of the top 14 teams in that category made the playoffs. Eliminating their best long-range shooter does not appear to be a wise strategy.

At the same time, the 6-foot-2 Gordon is an undersized shooting guard, and few teams believe he has potential to play the point. He's been able to start for the Bulls at times because Kirk Hinrich could take on the more difficult defensive matchup.

With Rose at point guard, that's not so easy, which is why Gordon should prepare to embrace the sixth-man role. It's also a reason why the Bulls offered Gordon less than they paid Deng ($71 million over six years).

If Gordon doesn't want to accept the Bulls' offer, his options beyond a sign-and-trade are to take the one-year qualifying offer worth $6.4 million and become an unrestricted free agent next summer or leave the NBA to join a European team.

Gordon doesn't want to play overseas, but a one-year deal worth, say, $10 million to play in Greece would seem to be a better option than spending an awkward, lame-duck season with the Bulls.

Of course, if the Bulls do re-sign Gordon, they still need to thin out their crowded backcourt. So why not go ahead and make a trade that would send away more salary than the Bulls take back in return? Include some cash in the deal if necessary.

If the Bulls can create more room under the luxury tax threshold, even just a few hundred thousand, they could increase Gordon's offer to $60 million or beyond and the languishing free agent would be crazy not to accept it.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com