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Posted: Monday August 4, 2008 12:59PM; Updated: Tuesday August 5, 2008 5:24PM
Marty Burns Marty Burns >

Sitting Bull: Gordon stuck in limbo

Story Highlights
  • Bulls restricted free agent Ben Gordon's options are limited on the market
  • Gordon reportedly wants to be the Bulls' highest-paid player ($13 million a year)
  • The Bulls might not be willing to exceed the luxury-tax threshold to keep Gordon
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Ben Gordon has led the Bulls in scoring in each of the last three seasons.
Ben Gordon has led the Bulls in scoring in each of the last three seasons.
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Josh Smith and Andre Iguodala aren't the only big-name restricted free agents stuck in limbo these days. Bulls guard Ben Gordon also is waiting for a new contract. With Chicago apparently unwilling to go over the luxury tax, and no other suitors left that have any salary-cap space, he might be a Sitting Bull for a while.

"He's stuck," an Eastern Conference general manager said. "Nobody [except Memphis] has any cap room. And I don't think he wants to go to Europe."

Indeed, Gordon appears to be facing a harsh reality. As the GM pointed out, only the Grizzlies have big money to spend -- and they already have a shooting guard in top rookie prospect O.J. Mayo. The Bulls, meanwhile, are already committed to about $63 million in salary for next season after last week's signing of Luol Deng (six years, $71 million). That leaves Chicago with around $8 million to offer as a starting salary for Gordon, if it intends to stay under the luxury-tax threshold of $71.2 million.

Neither side will talk numbers publicly, so it's difficult to determine how close they might be. But the Chicago Sun-Times recently reported that Gordon's agent told the Bulls his client should be their highest-paid player because Gordon led the team in scoring each of the last three seasons. With Larry Hughes slated to make $12.8 million next season, that means Gordon would want a deal starting at $13 million.

The Bulls obviously aren't going to pay that kind of money for Gordon. Not even close. He would be lucky if they offered him a six-year deal starting at $8 million, which with the maximum annual raises would net him $60 million over the life of the contract. Gordon turned down a five-year, $50 million extension last year, so he at least could save face if he took that deal.

Then again, the Bulls might not even have to make that offer, given the lack of suitors with money out there.

It appears Gordon's options have boiled down to the following:

• He can take the Bulls' one-year qualifying offer ($6.4 million), and then become an unrestricted free agent next offseason.

• He could follow the lead of Josh Childress and take a deal in Europe.

• He can try to find another team that will pay him what he wants, then hope the Bulls agree to do a sign-and-trade.

It's the last scenario that has many fans in the Windy City buzzing. It's no secret the Bulls have a crowd in the backcourt. Many are clamoring for GM John Paxson to use Gordon in a package with some other pieces to acquire a much-needed scoring big man.

The problem is that sign-and-trades are extremely difficult to pull off. It requires not only a team willing to take on Gordon at his desired salary, but also players (and contracts) that the Bulls want in return. Maybe that's why we have not seen any major sign-and-trades so far this summer, and only a handful over the past few years.

Further complicating matters is the fact that if Gordon signs for anything more than a 20 percent increase over last year's salary of $4.9 million (in this case, $5.9 million), he automatically becomes a base-year compensation player. That means the Bulls can only take back roughly half his new salary in return, and the other team has to have enough cap room to absorb the bigger deal. The deal could still be done if a team has a trade exception, or if more players can be included to make the salaries match up, but it basically throws a big monkey wrench into the machine.

"His best deal might be to take the qualifying offer," the GM said. "He could still re-sign with the Bulls next year. He'd just have more leverage."

After last season's dismal campaign, Chicago appears to be slowly getting back on track. Highly touted rookie point guard Derrick Rose is ready to go. Deng has just re-upped. Veteran assistants Del Harris and Bernie Bickerstaff have signed on to help rookie coach Vinny Del Negro learn the NBA coaching ropes.

Now they just need to figure out what to do with Gordon -- and that overcrowded backcourt that includes Rose, Hughes, Kirk Hinrich and Thabo Sefolosha. It will be interesting to see if Paxson uses Gordon to clear up space there, or if he opts to keep the former Sixth Man Award winner and move somebody else. Given Gordon's contract situation, Paxson has to be at least thinking about a solution that addresses both at the same time.

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