Taj Gibson is deservedly and understandably a fan favorite in Chicago. The Bulls selected Gibson 26th overall in 2009 and he’s been the franchise’s only constant in that time, averaging over 20 minutes in 62 plus games each season of his career. Finally the everyday starter after a career of sixth-manning, Gibson is having a career-year.
The Bulls should trade him as soon as possible.
Gibson was 24 his rookie season, far older than the vast majority of players coming from the college ranks. As such, the big man will turn 32 shortly before he becomes an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career this July. While Taj has been as valuable as ever this season, it’s well-known that players lose effectiveness as they progress through their 30s.
Much of Gibson’s value comes from an incredibly high basketball IQ. Defensively, he’s a proud disciple of Tom Thibodeau’s principles and excellent at executing a scheme. On the other end, Gibson’s screen-setting, boxing out, and understanding of floor spacing are invaluable. He’s also become a strong mid-range shooter.
Still, Taj has always relied on speed and athleticism to elevate his game. He’s an explosive finisher around the rim and an excellent offensive rebounder, often outworking opponents for difficult baskets. On defense, Gibson can credibly protect the rim and contain pick-and-rolls from feisty guards. As he ages and loses a step, those skills will undoubtedly diminish.
Although Gibson has been a valuable Bulls player for the past eight seasons, he’s never been close to an All-Star. Elite players often remain strong contributors late into their careers because they are so skilled in numerous aspects of the game. As more of a “grinder”—maximizing his value through constant effort and discipline—it will be even tougher for Taj to maintain his productivity.
Assuming the Bulls are at least a few years away from contending for championships, it’s likely that he will be a reserve player at that point. It’s clear that Gibson is still an above-average power forward that can help a contending team. Unfortunately, the Bulls don’t appear to be anywhere near contention, making it difficult to envision Gibson’s role on their next great team.
While Taj is an integral part of the current roster, the Bulls are in legitimate danger of missing the playoffs yet again. Trading Gibson would allow them to fall deeper into the lottery mix in a supposedly strong draft year. Furthermore, as a two-way player that can handle both big positions, Gibson undoubtedly has trade value. While the Toronto Raptors are constantly connected to Atlanta’s Paul Millsap, Gibson would offer a cost-effective alternative.
The Bulls are in desperate need of young players and future assets after basically whiffing on the past three drafts. Moving Taj at the deadline would advance that cause in two ways by ensuring a better pick and adding whatever assets they get in return. Furthermore, eliminating Gibson from the rotation yields the franchise a much deeper look at what exactly they have in Bobby Portis, Nikola Mirotic, and Cristiano Felicio.
All three are significantly younger than Gibson and the latter two will be restricted free agents this summer. While Portis is only in his second season, he’s gotten very little playing time at his natural position of power forward. Assigning heavy minutes to the young bigs gives the front office valuable insight into the future development of the franchise and its biggest needs. The Bulls need to know as much as they can about how good these guys actually are.
At some point, Gar Forman and John Paxson need to recognize the reality of their situation. The Bulls are tremendously mediocre and a long ways from challenging the league’s elite teams. Trading Gibson would be an acknowledgment that a lot of work needs to be done if Jerry Reinsdorf ever wants a seventh Larry O’Brien Trophy. If they don’t even consider the possibility, it’s clearer than ever that the front office is in need of a shakeup.