Chicago Bulls Need a Bounce-Back Season from Taj Gibson

By Jon Keller
Taj Gibson
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

After the 2011-2012 NBA season came to an end, the Chicago Bulls were faced with a very difficult decision.

The Bulls had to chose between Omer Asik and Taj Gibson. Due to their limited financial situation, the Bulls had to part ways with a majority of their reserves known as the “Bench Mob.” It was regarded by many as the best bench in the league, and it was anchored by the two young big men: Gibson and Asik.

At the time, Gibson was believed to be a more valuable asset to the team as he averaged more minutes, points, rebounds and blocks than Asik. However, Asik had the opportunity to showcase his skill set during the postseason series against the Philadelphia 76ers when starting center Joakim Noah sprained his ankle in Game 3 and missed the remainder of the series.

With Noah out, Asik saw a major increase in his playing time as he was moved into the starting lineup. However, Asik struggled a bit with his new role as he managed to score more than four points just once in the entire series. Although he had a strong performance in Game 6, Gibson clearly seemed to be the better of the two.

Noah’s injury also gave Gibson more playing time, and he handled his new role a bit better than Asik. Gibson went from averaging 7.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in the regular season to 9.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in the postseason. The highlight of Gibson’s postseason came in Game 4 when he recorded 14 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 54 percent from the field.

The series against Philadelphia seemed to be a coming out party for Gibson, and many believed that he was destined for a huge year in the upcoming season.

Ideally, the Bulls would have been able to keep both Asik and Gibson, but this was not possible. Asik was an unrestricted free agent after the 2011-12 season and was one of the only pure centers in his free agent class. The Houston Rockets were in need of a big man, and had their eye on Asik. Chicago also wanted to re-sign Asik, but they could not match Houston’s offer of three years and $25 million.

With Asik signing with Houston, Chicago then focused on signing Gibson to a contract extension. After a long negotiating process, Gibson and the Bulls agreed to a four-year contract extension worth $38 million.

The Bulls had decided to move on without Asik and make Gibson a key part of their future plans. However, this decision did not play out as they had expected.

Asik clearly outplayed Gibson throughout the course of the 2012-13 season. Asik had a career year, putting up averages of 10.0 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 1.1 BPG and 54.1 field goal percentage. Gibson on the other hand averaged 8.0 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 48.5 field goal percentage and did not make a significant improvement in his game like many had hoped.

The Bulls need Gibson to have a bounce-back season this year and prove that he was worth the money that they paid him. Not only does it look bad on the organization’s end, but it is believed that Gibson will be starting for the Bulls as soon as next season. Current starting power forward Carlos Boozer is eligible to be amnestied by the Bulls next season and if the Bulls chose to do so, Gibson would likely be moved into the starting rotation.

Despite having a disappointing season last year, Gibson has proved in the past that he is more than capable of playing well and handling a large workload. Gibson must put last season behind him and focus on having a strong bounce-back season in 2013-2014.

If Gibson can play for the Bulls this season the way he did against Philadelphia in the 2012 playoffs, then all should be well in Chicago.

Jon Keller is a writer for Follow him on twitter @jkell2005

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