Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Whether you're a Bulls fan, and have 11-year old clips of Matt Steigenga throwing down an alley-oop on DVD in your living room (not that I'm familiar with these sorts of sorts), or a typical NBA observer, Luol Deng's contract extension seems pretty odd at first glance.

The Bulls forward was offered a five-year, 57.5 million dollar extension last fall, and decided to pass, preferring to work his way through the open market as a restricted free agent this summer. Deng proceeded to have a pretty miserable year, then he encountered an open market that really wasn't that open once the 76ers "settled" on Elton Brand, and the Bulls responded by handing the 23 year-old a six-year, 80 million dollar deal.

Something doesn't seem right. Until you start to chip away.

The 80 million quid mark only works its way to fruition once a batch of what they're calling "team-based incentives" comes into play. So, if the Bulls make or even win the NBA Finals next year, or the year after, then Deng might see his contract bump up a bit. Otherwise, it's a 71 million dollar deal, right in line with the 12 million dollar average we've seen players from the 2004 and 2005 Draft class get this summer. The incentives do partially count as a cap hold for the Bulls starting in the middle of the next offseason, but that hardly matters to a team that is well over the salary cap.

So, on the surface, a young team with good players decided to hand a player a contract that falls right in line with his value on the open market, even if he isn't trying to secure a contract in the open market, and it makes complete and total sense, right? Well, because this is the NBA, and these are the Bulls ... no.

1). Why give the guy one more year and almost 14 more million dollars?

Because the Bulls can. It doesn't make sense, and they were bidding against themselves, but Chicago went ahead with it anyway because team owner Jerry Reinsdorf likes Luol Deng. And because Reinsdorf is a basketball genius, it just makes sense.

2). Reinsdorf is the owner, right?

Right. Sarcasm doesn't always work on the internet. That's why there are so many fights.

John Paxson is the GM, but Reinsdorf decided that he wanted to negotiate this deal, just because he can.

3). Isn't Reinsdorf incredibly cheap?

Yes, and no. Since Michael Jordan left the team in 1999, the Bulls have been the league's most profitable franchise by far. The team doesn't rake in money comparable to the Lakers or Knicks, but they don't spend the same amount of money either. The team is swimming in profits.

But you never hear about it. Mainly because the team always seems to be over the cap, they always seem to be spending money while trading for (Jalen Rose), signing people to (Ben Wallace) or extending (Deng, Tyson Chandler, Kirk Hinrich) big contracts. The team throws off the scent of a spend-to-win franchise, but that isn't really the case.

You watch. The team has about seven and a half million dollars to spend this summer before it hits the luxury tax, and though Ben Gordon is worth about eight million a year, the team will find a way to worm its way out of sending money to the team's leading scorer and hardest worker.

They'll mention something about making Ben a competitive offer (because, with no teams actually making offers for Gordon's services, the league's average salary or the Qualifying Offer is, technically, "a competitive offer"), before signing him to the QO and telling their fans all about how much money they have invested in their backcourt.

The rookie salary scale was the best thing to ever happen to the Bulls, because they can hold potential and promise in your face while keeping eight figure contracts at arm's length, and by the time you've talked yourself into believing that the lottery-derived hotshot from four years ago has too many holes to retain, the Bulls have taken advantage, moved on, and picked up another shiny piece (Derrick Rose!) for you to get distracted with.

4). This makes no sense. The team is near the luxury tax. The Bulls just gave Deng nearly 12 million a year without really having to.

Yeah, but this is where they get you! Black helicopters!

Seriously, Reinsdorf has his guys. He has players he likes, and players he doesn't, production be damned.

The Bulls aren't his team. The Chicago White Sox are, he'll mortgage whatever it takes to get the Sox in the playoffs, but the Bulls are an on-again/off-again fancy. He takes interest in them every so often, and doesn't want anything to do with paying the luxury tax even if it would put them in place to win a championship.

And he has his guys. Gordon, Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah probably ... he doesn't mind it when his basketball braintrust drafts these sorts, but he doesn't want to be the one handing eight-figure a year contracts to them. Hinrich, Deng, Chandler, Andres Nocioni ... those are his guys. Scrappers. Plucky sorts. Reinsdorf is just fine with a second round exit with a team that makes him money and reminds him of the 1970 New York Knicks. And Deng, with that Bill Bradley-esque baseline jumper, fits right into his wheelhouse.

Gordon, even though he practically lives at the team's workout facility, isn't as lucky. And because the Bulls blind you with another lottery pick and fool you with Deng's contract, they can explain away passing on extending deals for other contributors, telling you that, "at the end of the day, we just need to retain flexibility," while you nod and wonder what number Derrick Rose is going to wear.

5). Number one, by the way.

Yeah, I know. I was hoping he'd go for 25, the Benji Wilson tribute, but that's how it goes.

6). And if the Bulls re-sign Gordon to a sizeable deal? If they pay the luxury tax?

I will dance to this song, repeatedly. I will warm myself thinking about the possibility of the Bulls showcasing an offense that is above average in offensive efficiency, at least by the year 2011.

And I will come on here and offer a mea culpa. But only if they pay the luxury tax.

7). Isn't this supposed to be a post about Luol Deng?

Yes. He's 23. He's awesome. He had a fluke year last year, and should be more than effective this season. The comparisons to players like Tayshaun Prince make no sense, mainly because Prince was about halfway through his rookie season by the time he was Deng's age, hardly a world-beater, and Deng seems a year or two away from making the All-Star team. This contract will take Luol right through his prime, and the guy is just a year removed from averaging about 19 and 7 at age 21. That's incredibly impressive.

It just smacks of a smokescreen, if not for Gordon, then for the other players that could come down the pike. There were reasonable arguments for Chicago to pass on retaining the lottery selections they accrued from 1999 to 2002 (all seven, !, of them), but this is a new batch, a new breed, and the worry is that Chicago threw a few extra million toward Luol to allow itself the chance to explain away retaining their other youngsters at a non-rookie scale rate.

I could be wrong. I hope I'm wrong. Here's hoping the Bulls make a fool of me.

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