DEERFIELD, Ill. (AP) -Kirk Hinrich tore out of the parking lot, and Andres Nocioni waved as he drove away. While they made hasty exits, Ben Gordon made it clear he wouldn't mind sticking with the Chicago Bulls.
Sure, he turned down a five-year contract extension last fall. Yes, he wants to be a starter. And, by the way, there's a logjam in the backcourt.
``I didn't get any indication from Pax that I wasn't in the plans,'' Gordon said Friday after his exit interview with general manager John Paxson. ``It's still very early. I don't know what's going to happen, but the organization knows what I'm capable of. If they feel that I'm a piece that they need, they'll make the necessary moves.''
Coach Scott Skiles was fired in December, and the Bulls continued to unravel under Boylan, going 24-32. The unselfishness and hard-nosed defense that defined them in recent seasons disappeared, as opponents shot 45.3 percent and averaged 100.4 points. A year ago, the Bulls were second in opponents field goal percentage after leading the league for two seasons.
They lost their way on defense. And they lost their way, period.
``Given what we did last year and the belief that young players are going to take another step with that experience, we were one of the most disappointing teams in the league,'' Paxson said.
Players lashed out at each other and the coaches as the losses mounted, and some skipped practices and shootarounds.
If there is a silver lining for the Bulls, here's one. They didn't fall as far as Miami, the team they swept in the playoffs last year for their first series win since the Michael Jordan era. The good feelings they brought to training camp dissolved right as the season began.
The Kobe Bryant trade rumors shook the team, and Gordon and Deng made questionable decisions by turning down five-year extensions worth more than $50 million. They're restricted free agents, meaning the Bulls can match any offer they receive.
``I feel like I'm in their plans, but in this league, you never know,'' Deng said.
Viewed as an emerging star a year ago, Deng was bothered by back pain early on and missed 16 games midseason because of left Achilles' tendinitis. He averaged 17 points and 6.3 rebounds.
Gordon led the team in scoring but his average dropped to 18.6 from 21.4 while coming off the bench most nights. The NBA's Sixth Man of the Year as a rookie in 2004-05, he has never really embraced that role and reiterated his desire to start on Friday.
``I've always wanted to be a starter,'' Gordon said. ``Why I've been coming off the bench for so long, I really can't answer that. There's no doubt in my mind I'm capable of starting in the league; it's just for whatever reason, here it hasn't been the case. There are going to be a lot of changes this year. That's kind of like the least of my worries right now.''
Gordon has indicated he might accept Chicago's one-year tender offer and hit the market as an unrestricted free agent after next season. His trade value would be diminished, and the Bulls could get nothing in return for him. If he stays, Gordon would be in a backcourt that is crowded at the moment with Hinrich and Larry Hughes, who came from Cleveland in the Ben Wallace trade.
``I think something can get done,'' Gordon said. ``What, I don't know, but it's going to be a long offseason. There's going to be plenty of time to figure something out. Hopefully, something works out.''
He said Paxson brought up ``some contract stuff'' during their meeting, but Gordon realizes the general manager has more immediate issues to address.
``I accept the fact that we won 33 games this year, but we're better than that,'' Paxson said. ``We have talent that's better than that. At the beginning of the year, everybody thought that talent might be conference-finals caliber. Obviously, it isn't.
``It seemed like this year when things got going poorly, they just kept going bad and kind of spiraled. You can't overturn your whole roster. Guys are going to be back here competing and playing, and hopefully, they all take some pride. ... They come back determined, ready, with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder and more focused.''

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