Clip this post. Save it an peruse it when Luol Deng and Ben Gordon finally sign new contracts. I will, because I’ll be stunned if they sign for more than they reportedly left on the table last month – $57 million and $50 million, respectively.
That’s right: Left on the table. Thumbed their noses at. Spat on. $107 million between them. $107 million for two guys, as one NBA coach puts it, “who are about four years from living with their mamas.”
Now I’m never one to begrudge athletes their financial due. Get all you can while the gettin’s good, is my view. But this one struck me. this one touched a place where I finally said: Are they nuts?!
Deng and Gordon are two solid stars-in-waiting. Last season, their second as pros, they helped make the no-longer-baby Bulls the most surprising team in the league east of Golden State. The team won 49 games (the most since the you-know-who era), eliminated defending champion (though D Wade-less) Miami in the opening round and pushed experienced Detroit to six games before losing in the Eastern Conference finals. They were maybe the most fun team to watch in the postseason – from throwback point guard Kirk Hinrich to the long-range bombing Gordon to arsenal of active long-bodies, epitomized by Deng.
Just prior to the start of the regular season, Hinrich signed a new five-year deal worth a reported $47.5 mill. During the summer, the Bulls signed swingman Andres Nocioni, who was a restricted free agent, to a five-year deal worth a reported $38 mill. God bless ’em both. To be young, gifted and ballin’ is a great thing.
Bulls honcho John Paxson had until midnight before Halloween to sign his young guns, and from all indications worked diligently to sign Deng and Gordon. But for some reason neither player has adequately explained why they passed on the lucrative deals that were theirs to sign. Oh sure, San Antonio point guard Tony Parker signed a six-year, $66 million deal three years ago. But there is one major reason why that deal is now a false standard:
Parker had already been the starting point for an NBA championship team, the 2002-2003 Spurs. A ring means ca-ching.
Deng and Gordon haven’t won squat and, as on now, they are helping to make the Bulls the most surprisingly disappointing team of the 2007-08 season.
I an only presume Deng and Gordon think they’ll get more money later, and perhaps they will. But I’ll be stunned if they do. After all, their value seems to plummet every game. Right now the notion that Paxon, amid the whirlwind surrounding the Kobe-trade frenzy, allegedly said Deng was untouchable, even if he got the most exciting and dominant player on the plant in return, well, is laughable.
Moreover, let’s say both players signed their deals. At 22 and 24, respectively, they would more than likely get to sign another lucrative deal while still under 30, and they’d have those millions (after taxes, of course) in the bank.
Can someone help me out? If Deng and Gordon won’t explain their reasons for passing on more money than most of us will see in 12 lifetimes, will someone step forward and enlighten me? Otherwise, I can never look at those young cats the same way again.
Call them the Chicago Delusionals.
There’s been a lot of talk trying to explain the Bulls poor start. many have focused on the air of uncertainty that hovered over the team during the Kobe drama, and may continue to do so until the trade deadline. But I blame something else: By not signing those long-term deals, Deng and Gordon, subconsciously, I truly believe, are playing for themselves and not for the team.
Not that they’re bad guys, and not that they’ve suddenly become selfish gunners who grab the stat sheet before entering the post-game shower. But they can’t help but have the numbers 50 and 57 dance through their heads, on occasion. They can’t help but wonder if one bad game is costing them the millions they had in hand. They can’t help but wonder whether one unfortunately injury, well, let’s not even talk about that. They can’t help but wonder because they’re human.
Teams are delicate collections of talent, egos and dynamics with no name. When it all comes together – like a delicious main course – it’s great to behold. But it can be torn asunder so easily.
As easily as by two young men failing to pick up a pen.