Ben Gordon stakes out his claim as the first player in the history of the NBA to take the qualifying offer and benefit. What does this say about the acrimonious contract negotiations over the past two years? How did the Bulls fail to capitalize on him as an asset within the organization?
First, let's start at the beginning. Everyone throws out the numbers
Ben Gordon was offered by the Bulls in the past to try to justify
whether he should or shouldn't have signed an extension at some earlier
point, so I want to discuss the circumstances behind each negotiation
as I remember them.
Offer: 5/50, no negotiation
Deng's offer: 5/57, no negotiation
Gordon's past season: Considered one of the two best players on the team
State of team: Coming off 2nd round playoff lost, viewed as title contender entering next season
Ben Gordon supporters will look back at this point and discuss a
pattern of Gordon outperforming Deng while being offered less money.
Personally, I don't think that's a fair assertion. During this
season, Deng's only had 1 injury in his career, the fluke wrist thing
which healed fine, and scored nearly as much as Gordon while shooting
over 50% from the field. He was younger, had better size, was a
better defender, and contributed in a number of ways.
I think most reasonable people would have said Deng was the more valuable piece coming out of this season.
On the other hand, Gordon detractors will point to this offer and say
"see the Bulls valued him, they offered a huge extension", when in fact
5/50 was anything but huge at the time. The economics in basketball
were better, and Ben Gordon was one of two key players on a team
expected to make a title run. I'll stop short of calling the deal an
insult, but his fair market value was probably at a floor of 12 million
per season at this point.
The Bulls figured there's no reason to bid him up huge given that
things may not work in the future, and they may have been more
internally skeptical of their own success than fans were. Their
offers to Gordon and Deng show as much. If so, they proved to be
Offer: 6/54, no negotiation
Deng accepts: 6/71
Gordon's past season: Still considered a top player, but his game has
regressed, the Bulls training staff didn't believe he was really hurt
at one point when he missed a bunch of games and thought he was trying
to make a statement about his value
State of team: Coming of 33 win season and massive disappointment,
Derrick Rose has just been drafted making a pairing of Rose and Gordon
skeptical in the eyes of many for the long run.
His offer relative to Deng at this point was insulting and likely the
reason he sat around all off-season mulling it over. Questions of
selfishness, regression, and future fit with Rose limited the Bulls
offer to him. It's worth remembering at this point, that Gordon has
really only had one great statistical year, 2006/07, his first two
seasons were marred with poor overall efficiency. His fourth season
The offer to him was a fair market value offer based on the totality of
his career. If Gordon went on to have a poor 08/09 season then he
would have likely been an MLE player. No one benefited more than
Gordon from the Bulls trade for Salmons/Miller and the great playoff
run that followed. It probably added 10 million total onto his
contract with Detroit.
That said, the Bulls decided to pull their contract offer from Gordon
and wouldn't change their mind when he decided to accept. I've
criticized this decision frequently because the Bulls couldn't pick a
lane. If they decided he wasn't a fit on the team that's one thing.
However, they decided he was a good enough fit to pay 54 million to for
3 months then just changed their minds at the last second. That shows
indecisiveness and lack of direction. They played hardball with
Gordon all summer then refused to collect the prize when winning.
Offer: Unknown (if any)
Gordon's past season: Best player on a .500 team with an outstanding
post season in perhaps the most memorable first round playoff series in
NBA history. Proved to be clutch and talented. While he regressed
in 2007/08, this season still established three consecutive years of
excellent offensive efficiency proving that his performance in 06/07
wasn't a fluke.
Bulls season: Team considered an up and coming team again with a bright
future ahead. That view is held despite the fact that they are losing
the best player from the previous season. It may still be true as
Derrick Rose may claim the team's best player role this season
regardless of whether Gordon is around.
The Bulls weren't even in the running for Gordon's services this
off-season, or at least they weren't reported to be. The Pistons
simply blew the Bulls out of the water offering up 11+ million per
So where did the Bulls go wrong? Clearly a player worth over 10
million per year on the open market should have been able to be moved
for something. Did the Bulls miss out on a large opportunity when
they passed on his agreement to their 9 million per year offer?
The mistake, if one exists, seems to be in timing. The Bulls were,
rightfully, skeptical of the 2006/7 team and didn't want to shell out
huge money for them. They lowballed both Deng and Gordon based on the
fact that they could always renegotiate the following year which was
probably a good decision on their part. In order to get either guy signed they would have likely had to offer near max money. The downside to waiting a year was slim for the Bulls.
When their fears were proven correct, Jerry Reinsdorf went over
Paxson's head and offered Deng a massive contract extension anyway.
This mistake is separate from the Gordon issue, but it shows how
personal the decision was. It shows why Gordon had a right to feel
slighted by the organization.
When Gordon did eventually accept the Bulls offer, I'd speculate that
the organization was concerned about his attitude moving forward. He
had missed almost all of pre-season with a dubious injury, hadn't been
a fan of his numbers, and they were probably worried that he wouldn't
be happy on his deal. Reinsdorf never seemed to trust Ben Gordon the
person. He even went down to specifically order Gordon to remain
professional after he signed the QO.
At what point should the Bulls have cut bait and traded him? The
ideal time would have appeared to be at the 07/08 trading deadline
where there were reports of a deal from New Orleans that would have
sent some combination of Julian Wright, a 1st rounder, and Hilton
Armstrong. However, had we taken that trade the Bulls would have
never had that phenomenal 2008/09 playoff series and run.
Would you trade those memories for Julian Wright or an extra mid round
1st from the 2008 draft? I'm not sure that I would. Those guys
wouldn't really add much value to the team going forward.
Going forward, the Bulls are left without Gordon or any compensation
for him, however, it seems likely the only compensation they could have
obtained would have been less valuable than the memories Gordon
provided in that final year and a half.
Their real mistake was not taking a chance on him at 6/54 last summer. He's proven to be worth more than that. He's proven he would have been a trade asset at that price. He's proven that he wasn't a fluke and that his fit was good. This miss goes entirely on Reinsdorf. He let it get personal with Gordon whom he never liked. That being said, if the Bulls had to pay Gordon 12 million a year this year to keep him then it's best to let him go elsewhere.
Congratulations to Ben, you were the first to fight the system and win.