Remember back in the summer, after the Bulls signed their big free agent prize (Carlos Boozer) and their group of middle-of-the-road guys to make up their team, when the Bulls still needed one more piece to complete their team?
The main target of these types of discussions was Carmelo Anthony, who looked destined to go to one of New York, New Jersey, or Chicago. The Bulls reportedly discussed a deal briefly, but nothing ever materialized. There was also the discussion of O.J. Mayo, who was nearly dealt from the Memphis Grizzlies to Indiana at the deadline, but the Bulls never really made a move for him.
Whoever the target may have been during the summer, and as recently as the NBA trade deadline, it was always the same names that fans were ready to send off if it meant getting a two-guard in there that was more serviceable than the incumbent, Keith Bogans, who was deemed more as an “inconvenience” than anything else.
The first name to often arise in those talks was Joakim Noah. His name came up a particularly fair amount when the Bulls were reportedly pursuing ‘Melo. Those rumors were put to bed when Noah signed a five-year contract extension to remain in the Windy City.
Not far behind Noah in those rumors was forward Taj Gibson. Almost every day, it looked more and more like Gibson would be part of the centerpiece of a potential deal for a shooting guard. Gibson was drafted in the second round out of USC, and easily outplayed the Bulls’ first round selection James Johnson, who is no longer with the team after being dealt to Toronto.
But as it would turn out, keeping Gibson around has paid dividends for this team. While the Bulls don’t boast the star power of a team like Miami, they were one of the most solid groups in the NBA from top to bottom, much of that stemming from the fact that they roll out, arguably, the best bench unit on a day-to-day basis.
And that bench begins with Taj Gibson. Early on in the season, when Carlos Boozer was out with his foot injury from tripping over a bag in his house and Joakim Noah was out with his various ailments, it was Gibson that stepped up (with a dash of Kurt Thomas as well).
For the regular season, Gibson’s numbers off the bench weren’t anything particularly mindblowing. He posted solid numbers as a reserve, with a point per game total just over seven points and grabbing a bit under six boards per as well. He proved capable of playing big minutes as well, logging over 40 minutes of game time on several occasions.
But Gibson’s true value was not completely known to the Bulls and their fans until the postseason. With the Bulls appearing outmatched against the Heat, despite being the better team overall, Gibson has provided a tremendous spark for the Bulls off the bench in the first two games of the series with the Heatles.
His impact on Game 1 was easy to see. In the Bulls 20-point thrashing of Miami and their ‘Big Three’, Gibson only had nine points, but made them count, with huge momentum-shifting dunks, including this gem over Dwyane Wade.
Even in Game 2, when the Bulls lost by 10, Gibson provided a strong spark off the bench, with his eight points and trio of blocks. Had the Bulls shot a little better, and had we seen a little less of Kyle Korver, we might be talking about Taj’s impact with the Bulls up 2-1 in the series.
As the series shifts to Miami, and fans and experts continue to question Carlos Boozer, Tom Thibodeau would be wise to play Gibson earlier than he did in Game 2, given the energy he brings to the lineup, especially if Boozer’s play continues to be a question for the Bulls. Should the Bulls pull off the unexpected and knock off the heavily favored Heat, Gibson will be a major factor in doing so.