An "Answer" to a crazy day
Iverson may be good fit for Bulls
Now that he's gone to Motown, or more specifically, suburban Motown, to be the second coming of "The Microwave," I think we missed the boat on nicknaming Ben Gordon.
We should have dubbed him "The Professional," after the 1994 Luc Besson movie about a quiet hitman named Leon. Another marketing opportunity lost, alas.
Gordon was a basketball assassin, a sniper of the first order who radiated cool, calm and collectedness during his four-year tenure in Chicago. He was everything you could want in a shooter -- he had perfect form and an all-business mentality when it came to scoring. The obsessively fashionable Gordon led the Bulls in scoring (20.7 points per game) and fancy-scarf accidents (one, which caught on fire in April, burning his arm) and never shied away from a post-game interview.
Gordon didn't waste his time looking for a shot; he created it himself, again and again. This last season, when he augured his reputation as a late-game hero, he took half of his shots during "clutch" situations (final five minutes of fourth quarter or overtime, no more than five points separating the teams, according to 82games.com) with 10 seconds or less on the 24-second shot clock.
When it came to being a free agent, Gordon was like-minded. One trip to Detroit and he was sold. No back-and-forth with the Bulls, with whom he squabbled over money during the past two summers. Gordon said the Bulls did not make an offer this time.
You will miss Ben Gordon. Even if you're a fan of defense and are opposed to a guard who pounds the ball into submission before occasionally dribbling off his foot, there are no players on the Bulls, and few in the NBA, who have his ability to make jump shots with the game on the line.
If you took Gordon's "clutch scoring" numbers over 48 minutes, almost all coming on jumpers and free throws, he would have averaged 36.3 points per game, not bad for a 6-2 guard. Some guys pile up points early and are invisible down the stretch. Gordon came alive when it mattered most, implacable mien included.
Now he'll face the Bulls at least four times this season, and I don't think a scouting report is necessary.
It was a wild first day of free agency for Chicago's United Center teams, as each lost its leading scorer. Gordon agreed to a five-year, $55 million deal (not far from the Bulls' offers he rejected in the past) with Joe Dumars' Detroit Pistons, and the Blackhawks signed Marian Hossa to a 12-year deal for $62.8 million, while saying goodbye to goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and forward Martin Havlat, among other moves.
It was almost enough to make you forget about the trials and tribulations of the Cubs and White Sox and postpone the countdown until the Bears head to training camp. For a day, anyway.
Hossa's deal, which sounds ridiculously long at first glance, allows the team to spread out Hossa's salary (he makes $7.9 million during the first seven years of the deal, according to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun) over the next three presidential terms. Heck, by the time it expires, wildly successful Hawks president John McDonough could be the second Chicagoan in the White House. Check that, the Binny's Beverage Depot White House.
Finally healthy, Havlat led the Blackhawks with 77 points and 38 assists and finished second to Jonathan Toews in goals with 29. He also had a plus-29 rating, the best of the forwards.
His departure (he signed with the Minnesota Wild) wasn't unexpected considering the Hawks' wealth of young forwards. But the signing of Hossa on the first day of free agency is a great sign for the fans of the No. 1 franchise in the city, according to ESPN's new "Ultimate Standings" poll.
In truth, the Hawks don't need any more hosannas from the media, but a Hossa is a different story.
The Hawks' move to sign the 40-goal scorer, fresh off a one-year tour with the Red Wings, after talks with Havlat stalled, showed that the organization is serious about improving after the team's breakout season.
Hossa is a veteran scorer who played in -- and lost -- the last two Stanley Cups, which is more a funny coincidence than a harbinger of things to come. The Hawks also added former Red Wing forward Tomas Kopecky, who signed for two years and $2.4 million and re-signed center Dave Bolland for five years and $16.875 million.
While Hawks fans will miss Havlat, his departure will be felt much less than Gordon's, as the Bulls have no one to fill his role as late-game sniper.
Derrick Rose is nearly unstoppable when he takes it to the rack, but teams will continue to flood the middle and try to angle him toward the corners to force him to shoot. Do you think he'll shy away from the middle against Cleveland with 600 pounds of LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal standing in his way? I know I would. But while Rose's shot will undoubtedly keep improving -- and it's not bad now -- the Bulls need to add another guard to their current three-man rotation.
The Bulls chose to focus on frontcourt depth in the draft, so either they want to slip swingman John Salmons into the shooting guard spot, or they think they can sign a free agent for a one-year deal that allows them to stay under the luxury tax threshold.
There are few free-agent shooting guards anyway, and the Bulls, like every other team, have dreams of Dwyane Wade, James and Chris Bosh and want to have Jerome James-size cap room for the ballyhooed free agent Class of 2010. As of now, they have about $25 million in space, thanks to a bundle of expiring contracts.
So how do you replace Gordon on the cheap? You could sign a steady veteran like Anthony Parker, a Chicago native who starred for Maccabi Tel Aviv and then resurrected his NBA career with Toronto. He scored 10.7 points per game last year and shot 39 percent on 3-pointers. Or you could make do with a serviceable guard like Desmond Mason to back up Salmons.
I think the answer to their hole at the 2 is "The Answer" himself. Yes, Allen Iverson. The often-maligned gunner, whose dismal showing with the Pistons led to the Gordon signing, could be signed to a one-year deal designed to bolster his reputation around the league and give him another chance to win.
Iverson can't replace Gordon's shooting, and yes, he tends to dominate the ball. But Iverson surely would respect Rose's game (there is nothing stars respect more than talent) and could possibly sublimate his attitude to complement the second-year guard. Kirk Hinrich and John Salmons would have to make up for a dearth of shooting, and they're certainly capable.
I know it sounds crazy, signing a self-absorbed gunner to a young, unselfish team with a seemingly powerless head coach, but if Iverson is willing to take the sub-$3 million salary the Bulls currently have available, I think it's worth a go. Iverson's free fall in court cred since leaving Philadelphia obscures his earlier career and his Hall of Fame reputation for entertaining basketball fans.
The Answer could start, which would undoubtedly make him happy, and play to full houses every night in front of some of the best fans in basketball. Rose's game would be infectious to the veteran, who no doubt would see himself as a mentor for the young guard. And yes, that could be a good thing.
The Bulls went big in the draft, taking Wake Forest's James Johnson and USC's Taj Gibson. Now it's time to go big again. The Answer is the answer? Crazier things have happened.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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