Over the past eight years, things have changed quite dramatically for the Chicago Bulls. From Vinny Del Negro and Tom Thibodeau patrolling the sidelines to Brad Miller and Carlos Boozer patrolling the paint, though, Taj Gibson has been a constant. It seems that his career only began yesterday.
“Yeah, it flew by,” Gibson told Basketball Insiders in a recent interview. “When you’re having fun and you’re playing for a good team, a good organization, everything just comes by fast. I’m still having fun, still taking it one day at a time, just counting up the years. These years go by, you just try to build and try to have fun.”
Now, in his eighth year, Gibson is the longest-tenured member of a Bulls team that has been turned over quite dramatically. With Derrick Rose in New York, Luol Deng in Los Angeles and Pau Gasol in San Antonio, the Bulls have dedicated themselves to a youth movement that results in Gibson suddenly being an elder statesmen. In this day and age, sticking with one franchise is tough, but to this point, Gibson has done just that, developing a reputation for being a team-first player who has worked hard and improved steadily.
“It feels good to finally win a starting job here, but it’s about whatever the team needs,” Gibson said, alluding to the fact that he was installed as the team’s full-time starter at power forward. “I was never a guy to try and start any issues. Just go out there and do my job—coming off the bench or starting.”
His work ethic and defensive instincts long earned Gibson the trust of one of his former coaches, Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau learned to trust Gibson in tight moments and for the 31-year-old forward, the dedication seems to finally be paying off. Now entering the final year of a four-year, $33 million contract he signed in October 2012, Gibson will have every opportunity to prove that he still has productive years ahead of him.
If you know Gibson, though, you know that his sole focus remains the team.
“I’m really trying not to pay attention to that,” Gibson said when asked about being in his contract year. “I’ll do what I’ve got to do on the court and everything will be fine. Right now, I’ve got a good group of guys that is looking for me and encouraging me to play well every night, so that’s the main thing coming in. That’s what’s making my job a lot easier.”
With Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler having emerged as the triumvirate upon which head coach Fred Hoiberg depends, Gibson—as he has been for his entire career—remains an underrated commodity whose contributions to winning go largely unnoticed and unrecognized.
“There’s going to be a ton of money this summer, especially because of the salary cap boosting up,” Gibson said, revealing that he has at least thought about his future. “But I can’t focus on that. I’m just going to go out there and do my job and play hard every night.”
Through eight games, the returns have been good. In addition to serving as an intimidator on the interior, Gibson is averaging a career-high nine rebounds per game. His 12.3 points per game is the second-highest scoring output of his career and with most of his damage coming in the paint, his contributions are needed for a team that consists of perimeter threats.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time and it’s been going great,” Gibson said of the Bulls, despite a few recent losses. “We see ourselves being a good team, but we understand it takes work and understand it’s going to take a long time, but we’re all positive and we understand the sky’s the limit right now.”
Along with the Atlanta Hawks and the Houston Rockets, this past summer, the Bulls emerged as a polarizing team among the pundits. Some believe they are the third-best team in the Eastern Conference while others don’t think they’ll qualify for the playoffs.
In all likelihood, they’ll fall somewhere in the middle.
Suddenly a wise sage, with an impressive young core that features Butler, Nikola Mirotic, Michael Carter-Williams, Bobby Portis and Doug McDermott, Gibson is being counted on to shoulder more weight than he has in the past.
Based on his track record, though, there should be little doubt that he’ll be up to the challenge. And this summer, when he hits free agency, you can expect the still-effective forward to attract a lot of attention.
That’s true even if he’s spent most of his career flying under the radar.
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