DEERFIELD – A lot has changed for the Bulls since the promising days of 2006-07.
Pretty much only one player from that second-round playoff team has continued to perform as productively as he did back then.
That player is Ben Gordon, who was supposed to be leaving the Bulls after this season.
Certainly that still might happen, but Gordon has played well enough to make it an uncertain proposition.
“I’ve always said I’m happy here, and that hasn’t changed,” Gordon said.
The Bulls would benefit from one of Gordon’s big scoring games tonight against the Sacramento Kings at the United Center.
The Kings (8-26) are far from imposing. But the same could have been said about the Minnesota Timberwolves, who came to town Saturday night and beat the sluggish Bulls.
“We just have to be sharper,” Gordon said.
That statement includes Gordon, who made only seven of 21 shots against the Timberwolves. It was a rare instance when he has been off the mark.
Otherwise, averaging 20.9 points on 45.1 percent shooting, Gordon has been typically prolific.
His level of performance is noteworthy. This is a season, after all, in which Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni, Tyrus Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha have struggled with injuries, inconsistency or both.
That leaves Gordon as just about the only member of the ’06-07 cast who has flourished to any degree. He has established a good rapport with his backcourt partner, rookie Derrick Rose, around whom general manager John Paxson plans to build the team for the foreseeable future.
Gordon’s defense remains an issue, but coach Vinny Del Negro said he works hard on that end and has made evident strides since the beginning of the season.
“Ben has done a good job throughout,” Del Negro said. “His scoring gives us a dimension we need, and he’s doing what we ask him to do in the other areas of his game.”
As one of the few veterans who is clicking, Gordon might be a player the Bulls cannot afford to let go.
After turning down multiyear contract offers from the Bulls the past two years, Gordon’s departure seemed imminent. The most recent proposal he rejected was for six years and somewhere in the $55 million-$60 million range.
Gordon instead chose to sign a one-year qualifying offer and become an unrestricted free agent after the season. He predicted the decision would pay off in the summer of ’09.
Whether the Bulls choose to increase their offer, or at least match or surpass what another team would offer, depends on the club’s long-term outlook.
If general manager John Paxson wants to free up salary-cap space with an eye toward 2010, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and other superstars hit free agency, he cannot pony up big money for Gordon.
If Paxson thinks Rose and Gordon are a worthwhile tandem to build around, Gordon’s tenure with the Bulls just might continue awhile longer.
“I’m not taking anything personally,” Gordon said. “I’m just going out and playing and trying to help the team win, definitely make the playoffs. That’s what I’m used to with this team.”
Health check: Forward Drew Gooden (right ankle sprain) said he hopes to play tonight after missing eight games. An MRI on Monday revealed no further damage.
Deng (left ankle sprain) is not expected to play. Hinrich (right thumb surgery) hopes to practice this week after missing two months.