Air Gordon versus Captain Kirk

Ben and Kirk

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.

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35 Responses to Air Gordon versus Captain Kirk

  1. Drew May 5, 2009 at 2:47 pm #

    I also like the versatility Hinrich brings to the table. But my concern with losing Gordon (which, IMO, is pretty much going to happen— it’s hard to imagine us moving enough salary to pay him) is with the scoring, and that basically his 20 points per game are not going to be replaced.

    Salmons will be Gordon’s replacement, and he hasn’t been as good as Ben even since coming to the Bulls and playing way over his heard for a stretch (mostly before he injured his groin). Deng will then be Salmons replacement. But Deng, even on a good night where his defender is letting him get his mid-range jumper, is just not the threat with the ball that the super-Salmons of the past couple months has been. He doesn’t have the same driving ability, can’t shoot the three, and generally isn’t able to create for himself on offense. And Kirk is not an answer to this problem either, as he has essentially been playing the role he would play on the team next year, so his offensive contributions are already considered.

    In short, our offense will be replacing Gordon with an inferior version of himself (in Salmons), and will be replacing Salmons with a much more limited offensive player. And Salmons will likely not play as well all of next season as he has in the couple months since coming to the Bulls.

    Now, on the plus side, Deng is a much better rebounder than Salmons, and that should help us immensely. And Salmons is a much better defender than Gordon, obviously, so a starting line with Salmons and Deng instead of Gordon and Salmons has its advantages.

    But for a team already prone to offensive draughts and too much jump-shooting, I worry about losing Gordon’s offense. Hirich’s versatility is great, and on a better team it would be really great. But on a middling time like the Bulls currently are, Gordon’s scoring is more important. Without out, and with our disastrous coaching situation leading to a ‘hope they miss’ team defense, we are in real danger of becoming a team that can’t score and can’t stop the other team from scoring.

    Joe May 5, 2009 at 2:48 pm #

    THANK YOU. It seems like people are so often blinded by Gordon’s scoring ability that they completely disregard the other facets of his game. As awesome as Gordon was in game 2, everyone quickly forgets that it was his complete lack of defense that lost that game for them despite his offensive heroics. And his temper tantrum nearly cost them game 6. And he shot them out of game 7. In my opinion, this series was a perfect microcosm of why Gordon shouldn’t be brought back. He’s streaky, one-dimensional, and a complete liability when his shot isn’t falling. If he could be retained for 6-8 million/year and 25 minutes/game, I’d love to have him back. But he’s going to want 10-12 million and 35 minutes and he doesn’t deserve it. I’ll take Hinrich any day of the week.

    It’s like people have already forgotten how Nocioni was and he was on this team just earlier this year. Do we really want to get saddled with another overpaid chucker when we just got rid of one? Granted, Gordon is better than Nocioni at making his chucks, but he’s still not worth keeping around.

    t-rocc May 5, 2009 at 3:04 pm #

    i completely agree with this whole post. i love Ben, would love to see him stay a Bull, but have always thought that Kirk gets unfairly maligned. He’s definitely a more valuable all-around player than Gordon, and I hope we hang onto him.

    Brad May 5, 2009 at 4:11 pm #

    Ah, yes. So we have all finally reached our moment of “Ben-Zen”. I couldn’t agree more and I am at peace with my thoughts: I love to keep him at sixth man pricing. I will hug him and let him go at anything above that.

  5. Dave May 5, 2009 at 4:14 pm #

    Couldn’t have said it any better.

    Kevin May 5, 2009 at 5:02 pm #

    I agree as well…
    The “nameless player” analogy you used is the best way to look at it.
    Bill Simmons said something in one of his articles a while back pertaining to Ben Gordon “needing his shots” – if Gordan wasn’t taking shots, you wouldn’t even know he was out there..
    If he goes to a team where there is already a guy “needing his shots”, there will be problems something will have to give…..

    AK Dave May 5, 2009 at 5:47 pm #

    I just wonder what number Ben has in his head when negotiating his contract. Apparently he wants more than 11 mildo a year; and I just don’t know who would pay him in that 15-20mil/year range. It’s baffling. I personally kind of chuckle when I hear the whole “Hinrich is overpaid” rant over and over… I think you summed up Kirk’s game pretty well, and a guy like that is worth 10mil/year. He’s coming off the bench, but playing big 4th quarter minutes and guarding the best guard/SF on the other team. So he’s not *really* a bench guy- I would argue that Jason Terry and Manu are also not “bench” guys, even though they don’t begin the game on the floor.

    Anyway, A) how much does Gordon think he’s worth and B) what could Chicago get in RETURN for Hinrich? What if Sacramento (purely speculation, not sure at all if it is plausable or if the money adds up) offered Udrih and Hawes (an actual POST PLAYER) for Hinrich and a 2nd round pick or something like that? I mean the Bulls need to keep an open mind here. Hinrich’s value may NEVER be this high again for trade purposes, whereas Ben’s playoff performances probably didn’t do a whole lot to change people’s view of what he can do.

    In any case, I think Gordon is a fool for turning down the contract he was offered, but who knows. If Rashard Lewis can cash in like he did with Orlando, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLLLLLLLLLLEEE!!

    JM May 5, 2009 at 6:20 pm #

    This post talks about Kirk as if he could only be a backup on the Bulls, but the Celtics series showed (I thought) that Kirk was a much better point guard than Derrick Rose. Don’t get me wrong, Derrick is great and should start, but he has a tendency to turn the ball over and his handle is uncertain. Maybe that will change, but until it does, why not try a line-up of:

    PG Kirk Hinrich
    SG Derrick Rose
    SF John Salmons/Luol Deng
    PF Tyrus Thomas
    C Joakim Noah

    Hinrich is seriously good, especially on defense, and he shouldn’t be wasted as a backup. As the Houston Rockets are showing now, good defense can make up for sometimes shaky offense, and the Bulls would be a pretty scary defensive team with that line-up.

    Alec May 5, 2009 at 7:41 pm #

    If Luol could shoot the 3, then I’d be more sanguine about letting Gordon go. Without BG, though, you’re talking about a starting 5 that only has one threat from 3 (and prior to this season, Salmons was not very reliable from there) and no real post offense outside of tip ins. This just doesn’t strike me as particularly viable. Obviously we’ll be better defensively by effectively switching in Luol for BG’s minutes, but I’d be very worried about our ability to score. With a PG like Rose, it seems to me the Bulls really need to have some shooters for him to kick out to when he penetrates.

    Plus, what are the chances that Luol even plays in 60 games next year? Even when he was on the court this year, he didn’t always look 100%. If Gordon is gone and Luol gets hurt again, then we’re looking at Hinrich being our starting SG and that is just not an acceptable outcome. I really like Hinrich in his current role, but ask him to play 25-30 minutes a game at SG (plus whatever time he’s playing PG) pretty much negates his value.

    I’m not sold on keeping Gordon yet, but it’s clear that we will need to bring in some new player to help offset the loss he does leave.

    Ryne Nelson May 5, 2009 at 8:29 pm #

    Excellent work, Matt. I, too, would like to see the Bulls hold on to them both, and I honestly believe that they will. That said, I’m not sure Kirk will be any easier to get rid of. His contract is beefy (as you said) and he still has plenty of years. Similar contracts, different value, excellent role players.

    NJ May 5, 2009 at 9:27 pm #

    As a Blazers fan, how would you guys feel about a straight swap of Kirk for Steve Blake? Blake has been a pretty serviceable starter, but he’s probably more ideally suited to playing backup, he’s cheap at 4 million a year (for 1 more year), he shoots 43% from three and he plays mostly mistake free basketball … just not exactly starting quality point guard basketball.

    Most Blazers fans seem to think Kirk could fit in pretty well next to Brandon Roy because he’s versatile enough to play both guard spots (Blake played the two in the fourth quarter).

    Is this a win-win from you guys’ perspective?

  12. Mitch May 5, 2009 at 11:25 pm #

    We are a worse team if we lose either one of the two. Period. Losing Gordon will not make our team better, the same with losing Kirk. I am in love with captain Kirk, and I’ve been a huge fan of him ever since 2003. But get this: I seriously think losing Gordon would be worse for this franchise. Gordon does take a lot of bad shots and is lackadaisical on defense but you can’t say he loses games for us. First of all, this series would not have gotten to 7 games if Ben didn’t sink those unbelievably clutch shots in Game 4 and he was the reason we almost won Game 2. Please don’t ever say he shot us out of Game 7 because although he was part of the reason we lost, the bigger reason was Vinny sitting Tyrus Thomas out for the equivalent of about a quarter and a half, carelessness of defense on House and Brian “redheaded couch potato who shouldn’t be in the NBA” Scalabrine, and Brad Miller getting so tired he could barely run like himself (which is bad enough already). Number one problem: Vinny. If you weigh Gordon’s “net” contributions, positives minus liabilities, the result is a positive overall contribution. Think about it. Who could possibly replace his points? And don’t say Hinrich, Deng, or Salmons because none of the above can come close to the volcanic eruptions he is capable of which has propelled him into Top 5 NBA shooter status. It would be dangerous to lose him. Our defense already isn’t stellar without taking Gordon into account, so if he is out of the picture, it gets better but overall doesn’t change as much as you might think. So..our defense is a tiny bit better and we lose a 20+ average point contribution. We have a worse season. I hope Paxson makes the right decision and I have a weird feeling in my stomach that he will.

    Belize May 6, 2009 at 12:06 am #

    Dude..i understand, but that’s taking into account that Kirk wants to be backup, and i really doubt that. He may do that one more season, but he is a quality PG that can start on more than 1/2 the teams in the NBA. If he’s cool with it then, by all means..lets keep him. But I just don’t see it..i really don’t

    mc May 6, 2009 at 1:24 am #

    the “how do we make up the points” argument is kind of bunk. let’s say gordon averages 20ppg at 43%. if deng is starting, let’s say he averages 15ppg (which is modest), shooting 45%. this means that all the bulls would have to do to match gordon’s output is to improve by 5ppg at 41%. are you saying that rose, tyrus, and noah themselves couldn’t improve by that much, combined? or that a full year in this system wouldn’t allow salmons to be more assertive? or even that they perhaps aquire/develop another bench player worthy of meaningful minutes? or that they don’t aquire a nice player or two via a sign/trade of gordon?

    i agree that gordon brings a certain swagger to the team that they would certainly lose. i would like to keep him on the team. but i think he’s too one-dimensional to keep at the price it will take. guys like gordon win games, but they don’t win championships. i personally thought his bad shots and stalling of the offense were a big reason they lost game 7. you live by the BG, you die by the BG.

    here’s hope that vinny can improve (at least) the coaching equivalent of 5ppg at 41%…

  15. David G May 6, 2009 at 1:49 am #

    screw gordon. i say we just develop our core of rose, joakim, and tyrus. then see which allstar we can woe over. i wish we could get carmelo, but i don’t see him leaving denver anymore. i foolishly dream about lebron and im kinda worried that wade might be an injury problem by the time he gets here. im really happy i dont have to make these decisions. in paxson i trust! (i dont regret the aldridge trade at all). if gordon just learned to be a good teammate by passing and playing D, i would like to keep this team together, but i doubt that will ever happen and really just tired of the heartattacks BG causes. ITS ALL ABOUT 2010!
    p.s- sorry about the grammar and jumbled words

  16. Mitch May 6, 2009 at 2:12 am #

    It’s not as simple as saying our crew can just up their output by 5ppg because a lot of the reason they got their points in the first place is because of Gordon simply being on the court, drawing defenders away from the other 4, creating matchup problems. Rose himself said that the biggest reason he was able to put out 36 pts in Game 1 was because of Gordon drawing people away from him, allowing him to be more assertive in the lane. Without Ben, defense spreads to everyone like a swine flu pandemic and our normally capable Tyrus, Rose, Luol, Kirk, Salmons will suddenly have to face harder defensive schemes and have a more difficult time scoring. It’s not just Gordon’s scoring, its the issues he creates by just being present on the basketball court.

    Detroit Murder Dog May 6, 2009 at 2:19 am #

    My dream is that Deng plays for Great Britain this summer and fails to get healthy, so that the Bulls can void his abysmal contract. Then we sign Ben and it’s back to business.

  18. David G May 6, 2009 at 3:41 am #

    also to add to my post, i think it is extremely hard to go far in the playoffs relying on gordon’s “ridiculous” shots. you couldn’t count on that for 4 series!

    Robert BigWay May 6, 2009 at 6:26 am #

    Gordon spends more time on the ground than any player I’ve ever seen, so why do you insist on calling him Air Gordon, it doesn’t do much for your cred, street or otherwise.

    Matt McHale May 6, 2009 at 10:17 am #

    Robert BigWay — I didn’t make up the Air Gordon nickname. He’s been called that for years around Chicago.

    mc May 6, 2009 at 5:06 pm #

    “a lot of the reason they got their points in the first place is because of Gordon simply being on the court”

    of course you’re right, to an extent, but also keep in mind that gordon doesn’t only take shots, he *stalls* the offense. he gets in these grooves where he does everything 1on1, and while his makes are great, his misses are demoralizing. the quick three he took at the end of game 7 was the nail, as far as i’m concerned. i think that with 5 guys playing within the offense, combined with young players improvement, we’ll be able to easily match his output. and remember, it’s not just about matching the 5ppg, but doing it in a way that is more efficient. i do agree, however, that his 3pt shooting will be sorely missed from a team that really doesn’t have anyone else consistent. i’m not sure how they match that part of his game since he’s one of the best at it.

    NCC May 6, 2009 at 8:14 pm #

    I really hope that the Bulls are able to resign both of these guys some way. I know that the likelihood of this happening is really slim, but I would love to see them both return. Just imagine how good this team could be at the start of next year. They were coming together very nicely at the end of this season and Salmons even said in an interview that this team “is like a family,” which, in today’s game of “all about me,” is a rarity to find. With Rose blossoming into a premier point guard and Deng returning this team could be something special. Now what I’d really like to see is have everyone on this years team including Gordon say “hey, we got one heck of a team here and we could do some things if we all stick together. Why not make some pay cuts and keep this team together for the long hall…”I mean you’re making millions of dollars a year to play a game you love. Call me “old fashioned,” but I think this idea about keeping a team together and creating that “family atmosphere” could do wonders for this young team.

    cilantromOnkay May 6, 2009 at 9:27 pm #

    ben gordan can manufacture points.

    rocky May 6, 2009 at 9:31 pm #

    Ben Gordon scoring really isn’t going to be missed. Derrick Rose will improve his game he’ll average over 20 next season. Deng will also be back and Salmons will be able to pick up the scoring to. Noah and Tyrus will also improve too.

    Derrick Rose-20ppg
    Brad Miller-12ppg
    Kirk Hinrich-12ppg
    Tyrus Thomas-14ppg
    Joakim Noah-12ppg
    John Salmons-18ppg
    Luol Deng-16ppg

    These are reasonable numbers for next season for these guys to average. Thats 104ppg. I’m pretty sure thats pretty good and I’m pretty sure without Gordon our defense will improve and we will not be allowing over 100ppg. Something to think about bulls fans.

    Sam May 6, 2009 at 11:27 pm #

    Good comments all around. I am starting my own NBA Draft Blog, if you’re bored you should check it out.

    We’ve got the #16 and #26 picks this year, so it should be interesting for us Bulls fans again. Silver lining, right?

    Rhett May 7, 2009 at 12:19 am #

    A great post. Well done Matt.
    The Hinrich vs. Gordon discussion is an important one- I agree, but not the most important. The Bulls must address their absence of a big man with inside scoring abilities. The Bulls lost the series against the Celtics because of the TT – Big Baby matchup (IMO). TT deserves a bench spot for at least one more year, but he is not a starting PF.

    It would be neglectful for the Bulls front office to re-sign Ben Gordon without a stronger starting PF player.

    In conclusion, I agree with Matt: keep Hinrich and let Gordon go. See if Hinrich is comfortable with a full time 6th spot. Additionally, pick up a starting PF that can play 30 minutes a game. TT had his chance, and failed. Now, TT has to earn the starting position back.

    (P.S. I do not believe a team can be great with Hinrich as a starter. A good team, but not a great team.)
    (P.S.S If the Bulls won the Celtics series, I know my opinion/position would be different.)

    jeff May 7, 2009 at 2:49 am #

    Anyone who enjoys good basketball should agonize over Ben Gordon’s play. He is a circus act with one skill and one skill only: making ridiculous shots. Plus he lost the floater that he used to have great touch on earlier in his career. It’s as if he can’t make a shot inside 16 feet.

    Friedell is being totally unfair with your arguments. Gordon doesn’t play inconsistent defense. He plays TERRIBLE defense. He is incompetent on that end of the floor and replacing him with just about anyone would be a major improvement. Hinrich on the other hand can guard 3 positions well. Plus he doesn’t jack it up uncontrollably like he’s playing Pop-A-Shot at Chuck-E-Cheese.

    He is the epitome of streaky. He disappears practically every other game, maybe getting hot in one quarter. When he’s cold he just kills the team, taking them out of ANY offensive rhythm. They can’t spare that offensive flow, considering Del Negro’s system is… non-existent. “Let’s get the ball to Gordon and watch him spaz out, dribble too much, and then jack up an off-balanced shot that no one has any business shooting.”

    He is not a team player. I am pretty sure he has 7 career assists. And that includes playoffs, preseason, and practice. THE MAN IS A BLACK HOLE. Gordon’s selfishness is stunting Rose’s development.

    With the reemergence of Hinrich this season, Gordon has become expendable. Let’s save the $4 million we would be overpaying him and make a run at Wade, Bosh, or one of the other potential free agents.

    Michael May 7, 2009 at 4:55 pm #

    I think Oklahoma City should seriously consider signing Ben Gordon and try to figure out how he, Westbrook and Durant could play at the same time. Lethal.

    Joe May 7, 2009 at 5:09 pm #

    I wonder what kind of trade value Gordon has right now, he could be valuable in a sign-and-trade scenario, especially if coupled with Salmons’ cap-friendly contract, Miller’s expiring deal, or Tyrus’ potential. Or maybe just Gordon by himself? I wouldn’t be against a sign-and-trade of Gordon to the Knicks for David Lee at about 4 years, 30 million. Gordon would be great in D’Antoni’s offense and Lee gives Chicago depth and consistency down low. Plus Lee would be a good pick-and-roll partner for Rose. I’d love that rotation:

    6th-Hinrich (PG, SG)
    7th-Tyrus (PF, SF)
    8th-Miller (C, PF)

    That’s a pretty nice team in the East, could very easily end up as a 5th seed.

    Matt McHale May 7, 2009 at 6:08 pm #

    Joe — Any deal involving Gordon would have to involve other players as well, I’d think. A one-for-one sign and trade would risk taking an added salary hit, and Paxson wants to avoid that. I suppose it would be okay if it was an expiring contract…but what’s the point of that, since Gordon is already coming off the books, unless the trade would land us the inside scoring threat we need. And David Lee is not that threat.

    chisprts4ever May 7, 2009 at 7:13 pm #

    I think the Bulls need to get rid of Hinrich because it is much easier to find a big guard who can guard the 1,2 and 3 everybody is talking about what Ben wants but I’d much better have a scorer coming off the bench making 10 mil than a guard who dribbles to much and misses layups. Captain Kirk is insane more like assistant and player Hinrich.

    Joe May 7, 2009 at 8:06 pm #

    But if they re-sign Gordon, that’s going to be a salary hit. What are their options really if they don’t want to take on more salary? Just let Gordon walk? I’m not against that, but that is their ONLY option short of pulling a Clippers-esque “screw you, fans” trade and trading someone (Hinrich) for money/draft considerations if they do choose to re-sign Gordon. Maybe I’m overlooking something.

  33. Ng from da chi May 8, 2009 at 12:50 pm #

    Ben is one of my favs…but he take minutes and points from hinrich if gordon is gone you could see hinrich playing 30 mins off the bench and avg about 15ppg 6 apg and 2spg easily 6th man of the year talks.

    Nickman May 10, 2009 at 4:53 am #

    The clear choice here is to let Gordan walk if we cannot get a sign and trade. Gordan is one of the games best players coming off of the screen but Defense wins championships. With Tyrus Thomas,a Beefier Noah down low, a lanky Deng, Salmons who will be guarding a player of his size, and Rose with another years experience, we can now get key stops down the stretch. For the offense we will lose, Rose will only continue to get better as will Tyrus Thomas. This team will also have an entire year to mesh. On a side note, I believe we should keep DeMarcus Nelson because he is a slasher and a Defensive minded Player who comes cheap.


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