Anyone who follows the Bulls will tell you that the team’s biggest and most immediate offseason concern is what to do with Ben Gordon: Re-sign him…or let him moonwalk out of town? The main problem is that, to avoid the dreaded luxury tax — the Dr. Doom of the NBA — John Paxson probably won’t be able to retain Gordan and keep everybody on the current roster. As Sam Smith said: “…to sign [Gordon] to a competitive deal, the Bulls would probably have to trade a player without taking back a similar salary, which is difficult in this era. It most likely would be Kirk Hinrich if that occurs.”
Now keep in mind that this is all just idle speculation at the moment. It’s impossible to know what kind of deal (or deals) Pax might be dreaming up or perhaps even working on right now. (Just, uh, don’t expect a Chris Bosh mega-trade, okay?) However, if it really comes down to a decision of whether to keep Gordon or Hinrich, I hope the team holds onto Captain Kirk.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m an unabashed Air Gordon fan. I’ve made that point before. He’s a proven 20-point scorer who can heat up in a hurry and win games — including, as we just found out, critical playoff contests — with his ridiculous shot-making ability. (I say “ridiculous” because both the quality of the attempts and the fact that they actually go in are often enough to boggle the mind.) However, scoring is pretty much all BG does. He can play only one position (shooting guard), he can’t defend at any position, he’s not a play maker, he tends to spend way too much time looking for (and dribbling to create) his own offense, and he’s almost as likely to shoot the Bulls out of a game as he is to shoot them into it. Seriously, flip a coin.
Kirk, obviously, isn’t nearly the offensive threat that Gordon is. (Although he can light it up from time to time, as he did in the fourth quarter of Game 7 against the Celtics.) But he does so much more. He can play both guard positions, he can defend point guards, shooting guards and (at need) small forwards, he can stick the three, he can handle the ball and run the offense, and he showed this season that he’s willing and able to come off the bench and do whatever the coach asks of him.
Think about it. Kirk is a starting-caliber player who can provide off-the-bench spot-duty behind both Derrick Rose and John Salmons (assuming John will be starting at the two-spot next season). Look, it’s hard in this league to find a quality backup at the point. Just ask the Hornets and Suns, who are always forced to play Chris Paul and Steve Nash way too many minutes over the course of a season. It’s just as hard, if not more so, to find versatile, two-way players who can subordinate their egos. Hinrich can do all that.
I get that Kirk is overpaid. But while he pulled down $10 million this season, his contract is structured so that the money he’s owed goes downinstead of up. He has three more seasons left at $9.5 million, $9 million and then $8 million. That seems like a lot to play if you look at his numbers, but teams win with depth and flexibility. Hinrich provides that. Gordon does not.
Think about it like this. Imagine you were an NBA GM and you had to choose between two nameless players. One was going to cost you $10+ million for the next four or five seasons. For that money, he would provide you 20 points per game and a half-dozen (or so) game-winning shots per season…and that’s it. The other guy was going to run you less than $10 million a year for the next three, would give you 12-15 PPG, play off the bench at two positions, defend at three positions and never complain about his role. I know which one I’d choose.
I’m not trying to demean Ben’s worth as a player. The 20-point scorer is a relative rarity. So is the game-winning shooter. But Hinrich simply has greater all-around utility than Gordon. Personally, I’d like the Bulls to keep both of them. But if that’s impossible, then Gordon should be the one to go. That would leave the Bulls with a starting lineup (I’m guessing) of Rose, Salmons, Luol Deng, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah with Kirk and Brad Miller coming off the bench. There’s a lot of offensive and defensive flexibility in that bunch…assuming that Loul can return healthy and ready to pick up some of the scoring that Ben did.
Again, as I said, it’s all speculation.