The free agency period hasn’t even started, yet that hasn’t stopped the Derrick Rose speculation to already rear its head. I guess it makes some modicum of sense: the Bulls need a point guard, and need veterans. Rose is an unrestricted free agent.
Plus, luring back the Chicago kid to appease the marketing development isn’t a concept foreign to John Paxson. But while Rose’s path to basketball redemption has been of note in Minnesota, that’s where it should stay. The prevailing story for next season should be the development of the core, not #TheReturn and the circus it will ensue.
Ironically, however, if the Bulls do have a thirst for bringing back a former Bull, it’s still someone they can find in Minnesota.
It’s time to bring Taj Gibson back.
Sure, unlike Rose, Gibson wasn’t born and raised in Chicago. He was never a No. 1 pick. He was never named an All-Star, let alone crowned the league’s Most Valuable Player. In fact, for most of his tenure in Chicago, Gibson was nothing more than a role player who played more games as a reserve than a starter.
And that’s why this move makes complete sense.
As the rebuild transitions into its third season, supporting the team’s young core with reliable, culture-setting veterans should be a priority in free agency. Who better for such a role than Gibson? Throughout his seven and half seasons in Chicago, the former Bull always sacrificed his own numbers and minutes for the betterment of the team, and did so with grace and class. Such traits predictably continued in Minnesota, most notably when new coach Ryan Saunders recently opted to bench Gibson in favour of Dario Saric.
When he said it to me I was like, ‘It’s no big deal.’ And we just started laughing. He just said, ‘I really appreciate you,’ and I said, ‘I’m here. I’m here for the team and trying to get wins, and I can perform coming off the bench. It’s no big deal.’
As an individual (or through a forced and fake committee), Gibson is the leader this Bulls team desperately needs. More than intangibles, though, the Bulls have a legitimate need for veterans on-court ability.
After trading forwards Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker to the Washington Wizards, the Bulls currently have no credible bench big options signed to the roster. Re-signing Robin Lopez as the team’s backup center is certainly an option. Like Gibson, Lopez has embodied a team-first mentality. But as the league continues to push the boundaries on traditional norms, a lumbering, post-scoring center isn’t of great importance (forcing this type of player out of Jim Boylen’s rotation wouldn’t be the worst thing either.)
That’s what makes Gibson appealing. At this point in his career, with his athleticism and quickness no longer what it once was, Gibson transitioning to center makes most sense for prolonging his career. Doing so is possible as teams continue to play smaller lineups, something the Bulls finally need to embrace — having a small-ball five would allow the Bulls second unit to operate in a more fluid and modern fashion in comparison to what Lopez offers.
Moreover, Gibson offers enough versatility to share minutes with both Markkanen and Carter. If the Bulls find themselves needing to upsize their frontcourt rotation, Gibson can slot back into power forward with relative ease (something Lopez can’t.) Whether it’s guarding centers on the block next to Markkanen or playing alongside Carter at the four, Gibson represents an interesting plug and play option in a range of scenarios for Boylen — if the coach is truly feeling frisky, running Gibson at center with Otto Porter alongside him at power forward in reserve units would be fun.
Casting Gibson as the lead big man off the bench has its schematic advantages on the floor, but more than that, its truest benefits may come from what the veteran can bring off it.
By rebuilding the franchise around two young big men, the Bulls are bucking recent trends set in a perimeter-orientated league. Should this be the path the team must walk, it’s imperative they do all they can to expedite the growth of Markkanen and Carter. That is the lens that should be applied on every potential acquisition moving forward.
A point guard who can run an offense and hit his big men in their shooting pocket is an obvious need. But don’t overlook the importance of a sound mentor in the frontcourt, a role than Gibson has honed the past two seasons alongside Timberwolves star center Karl-Anthony Towns. Markkanen and Carter stand to benefit greatly from Gibson’s influence and experience, and if either can model their professionalism and habits from the former Bull, the cost of his new deal will pay for itself.
Gibson is fresh off posting a career high in true-shooting percentage while boasting a 17.8 Player Efficiency Rating. But entering his age-34 season, Gibson is unlikely to receive an offer that goes beyond two guaranteed years. Speculatively, a two-year, $14 million contract should land Gibson, and there’s every reason to believe he will continue to produce during the life of such a deal. And, importantly, such a deal would line up perfectly with Porter’s inflated contract expiration in 2021.
It’s worth exploring bringing Gibson back to the city and team which drafted him in 2009. Doing so may not be as symbolic as Rose returning home to Chicago, but reliving a patented Gibson put-back dunk is the type of uncomplicated nostalgia we all can support. Above all else, for what he stands for as a player and person, Gibson more than any other former Bull deserves the attention of fans and management alike as a real option for next season’s team.