It may not get as much press as Luol Deng's globe-trotting ways, but Ben Gordon was doing his own similar deal over the weekend in his hometown, cheering up the community while dressed for apparently some super-cool funeral.
Got me thinking (this is what happens during the down days of the NBA offseason, sorry) about how Ben and Luol are so interlinked. Both became Bulls on the same night and thus started their all-important contract clocks simultaneously. They're the most productive players on the team, individually and in tandem.
But whenever their future is discussed by fans, Deng's position is always assumed secured while Gordon is on less stable ground. And some of that, as was discussed on the bullsbeat podcast last week, is from the idea that Deng's more likely to take some sort of 'hometown discount' to stay with the team. It makes sense due to his famously charitable ways, but Deng's still an NBA player with no reason to not get every penny of his true worth. And heck, maybe charity is a reason for Deng to demand more money, not less.
Deng's also always lauded for being the hardest worker on the team, although by all indications Gordon shares that trait in abundance. In one of the several vignettes on Deng shown on national TV over the season, there was a quote from John Paxson regarding Deng's work ethic (and I'm paraphrasing off of memory) saying that when he sees a car at the Berto Center when he's there in the morning, he first thinks it's Ben Gordon, and if not Gordon then Luol Deng.
I don't care to question who does more charity or who spends more time in the gym, I'm trying to get at why Deng and Gordon can be so similar yet their perceived futures so different. My reasoning for this discrepancy is while they may get equitable in praise from management, only Gordon gets those bad knocks as well.
Some of it is explicit, as in Paxson's quoted desire to get more size in the backcourt over the offseason (speaking of which, that didn't exactly happen did it). But the biggest reason to perceive Gordon's future as more tenuous is how he's been jerked to and from the starting lineup by Skiles. No matter what merits you may see in a firestarting 6th man, it's never a glowing endorsement to be replaced in a lineup by Chris Duhon (police lineup, maybe). It probably eats at Gordon as well, knowing his value has likely been hurt around the league as they see a supposedly limited gunner when he believes (and rightfully so in my opinion) that he can be an elite scorer. He's more Gilbert Arenas than Juan Dixon.
In the near future it's possible both Deng and Gordon can continue their parallel careers with fat Pax-signed long-term contracts in hand. But the feeling I've gotten over the years is that while Deng is certain to get his paper, they're still not sure on Gordon. And it's not the headlines from being the NBA's finest citizen that gives Deng this edge, it's that Pax and Skiles still don't seem to know what they have with Gordon. It's been a while since the last time he was coming off the bench, so for all I know he is now as loved by the organization as Luol. But if there's even a whisper of 'Ben seems to give us a better lift off the bench' I'll know they won't be paying him to stay.