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Crowded backcourt makes it hard to predict how Bulls will play hand
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/9/2009 11:26 PM

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There is a decent chance the Bulls will re-sign Ben Gordon this summer. He clearly wants to return and the Bulls need his scoring, so it doesn't make sense for either side to end the relationship.

There is a related question in this debate, though. If the Bulls' leading scorer stays, does it mean Kirk Hinrich has to go?

Of course, since Hinrich is under contract for three more years and Gordon becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, another option is letting Gordon walk away, filling his spot with Hinrich and John Salmons. This question played out on the court for much of the Bulls' season - which is more valuable, Gordon's offense or Hinrich's defense?

Gordon drains some of the NBA's most difficult shots and his value was never more obvious than in the playoff series with Boston. He scored 42 points in Game 2, saved Game 4 with a clutch 3-pointer and nearly shot the Bulls to a victory in Game 5 before a hamstring injury slowed him down.

Hinrich does everything well, but he stands out on the Bulls as the best individual defender. After coming back from two months off with thumb injury, he seemed to make a point of getting into people defensively, perhaps to show his teammates it can be done.

The Gordon-Hinrich problem isn't so much playing time, but the cost. Hinrich is set to make $9.5 million next year, a large sum for a backup player. If the Bulls begin next season with the starting lineup they used in the playoffs against Boston, Hinrich, Luol Deng and Brad Miller would give the Bulls a whopping $32 million in salaries coming off the bench, although three starters (Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas) are still on their rookie scale contracts.

A day after the Bulls ended their season with a Game 7 loss in Boston, Gordon wasn't even sure if the three-man backcourt should continue in its current state.

"Kirk has been a starting point guard since he's been in the league and this year, he moved to the bench," Gordon said. "I'm definitely sure he'd probably like to be back in that starting role and playing the way he's been playing in the past. So I don't know if (the lineup) has worked out that well. We still have a lot of guards that commanded a lot of minutes."

Keeping both players remains a possibility. It's a luxury the Bulls could probably afford if they're willing to pay the luxury tax for one season.

Hinrich was essentially a full-time starter during his first five years with the Bulls, but something had to change when lottery luck dropped Rose into the team's lap. Thabo Sefolosha actually started the first five games at two guard last season, with both Gordon and Hinrich coming off the bench. Coach Vinny Del Negro switched to Hinrich, but that assignment lasted just one game when Hinrich tore a thumb ligament on Nov. 7.

Hinrich's injury set up the Gordon-Rose starting backcourt, which stayed in place for all but one of the final 76 games. But Del Negro mentioned several times how Hinrich's return in January from the thumb injury helped change the season. The team culture shifted when Larry Hughes' "The game's no fun if I don't get my shots" minutes were replaced with Hinrich's team-oriented approach.

Hinrich does have plenty of offensive skill. He averaged a career-high 16.6 points in 2006-07 and was the only player with a hot hand in the fourth quarter of Game 7, producing 14 of the Bulls' 27 points.

Gordon, on the other hand, is probably not as bad a defender as he's often made out to be. When it comes to chasing an opponent and staying in front of him, Gordon does that as well as any of his teammates other than Hinrich.

Gordon has trouble with certain matchups, though, because he's undersized at 6-2 and some teams decided to attack him early in games by sending a taller guard into the post. Cleveland's Delonte West and Dallas' Brandon Wright were a couple examples from this season, when it was helpful having Hinrich in reserve.

One way to approach things, if the Bulls do re-sign Gordon, is to trade Hinrich for a couple of lesser-priced players who could serve as quality backups.

The plan they used in the playoffs, with basically two starters, Hinrich and Miller, coming off the bench, is not very common in the NBA. But it did work well against the Celtics.