Is Taj Gibson Part of Chicago Bulls' Future or Just a Trade Chip?

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2013

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With the Chicago Bulls’ season falling into disarray amid a plethora of injuries, the questions about the future arise, and among them is the status of Taj Gibson. Is he the future starting power forward or a valuable trade chip?

Certainly, if Gibson were made available on the trading block, he would garner interest among teams looking to jockey for position in the playoffs. He’s an elite defensive player with a much-improved post game. He’s averaging 15.7 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes.

While he’s backing up Carlos Boozer for the Bulls right now, he’s arguably the better player (and by arguably, I mean there’s a near-universal consensus).

He’s under a very reasonable contract which averages out to a mere $8 million per year. That’s quite a deal for a starting-caliber power forward. All the reasons that a team would trade for him are reasons to keep him.

That’s why there are four things to consider before making a rash decision on how to proceed.

  1. The “cap space” the Bulls have in free agency next summer
  2. The future state of the power forward position for the Bulls
  3. The 2014 NBA draft
  4. The potential for turmoil

It’s only after considering all four of these things carefully that a responsible decision can be made.

The “cap space” the Bulls have in free agency next summer

I have quotes around “cap space” because there’s a massive misconception that many Bulls fans have, believing if owner Jerry Reinsdorf finally pulls the trigger on the amnesty clause and lets go of Carlos Boozer this summer, the Bulls will have money to sign a big-name free agent. That’s untrue.

According to Sham Sports, if they amnesty Boozer and let Luol Deng walk in free agency, the Bulls are locked into $48 million in salary for the 2014-15 season. If the cap goes up to $62 million, then that would give the Bulls $14 million.

However, once you factor in cap holds that could drop as much as $4 million, depending on where the Bulls pick in the draft, and whether they get the Charlotte Bobcat’s pick (top-10 protected).

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 12:  Nikola Mirotic of Real Madrid tussles with Kyle Hines of Olympiacos Piraeus during the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four final between Olympiacos Piraeus and Real Madrid at the O2 Arena on May 12, 2013 in London, England.
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Then, you have to include the potential for the European sensation, Nikola Mirotic, coming over. While it’s always been assumed he would be available for the mid-level exception, he could be playing himself into a bigger paycheck. I wrote more about that here.

Were the Bulls to trade Gibson for an expiring contract and a draft pick, or bundle him together with Deng for a larger expiring contract, that could provide Chicago with $8.5 million more to spend this summer. That would mean the Bulls would have in the ballpark of $12-14 million to spend in free agency, rather than just $3-5 million, if Mirotic comes over.

If Mirotic doesn’t come over, and the Bulls were to let go of Boozer and Deng and trade Gibson, then they would have enough money to ink a max-contract player in the neighborhood of $19 million. Either way, the Bulls could improve their cap flexibility by trading Taj Gibson.

The future state of the power forward position for the Bulls

The Bulls are facing considerable uncertainty in regards to the future of their power forward position. Trading Gibson could make it even more precarious.

It is frequently speculated that Boozer will be amnestied this summer. While he’s shown flashes of being the 20-point, 10-rebound player the Bulls were hoping for when they signed him, he’s been frustrating more often than successful.

After the Bulls' loss to the Toronto Raptors at home, Joakim Noah had some harsh criticism, and while Boozer (who was 4-of-18 on the night) wasn’t specifically named, it was hard not to believe these words were directed at Boozer. Per KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Noah said,

Losing sucks, there’s no question about it, but it also shows people’s true colors. Who is willing to keep fighting through the adversity or who is just going to say, “You know what, I don’t want no part of this, and I’m just going to take bad shots and just not care about making winning plays or playing defense.’

Everybody has to stick together.

The team has thrived on its chemistry, and if Boozer is wearing on his teammates, he may be assuring himself of an early departure.

Then there’s the question of Mirotic. Will he come over or won’t he? According to HoopsHype, the Bulls met with him on December 13, and again the following day. It certainly seems like there could be some negotiation going on.

And, per Mark Deeks of Sham Sports, the Bulls could help Mirotic in a buyout of his current contract with Real Madrid since he no longer is bound to the rookie salary, but the amount they spend (over $600,000) in the buyout would count towards the cap.

In other words, the Bulls should be able to bring Mirotic over, but nothing is guaranteed.

There is a risk though. If the Bulls trade Gibson, amnesty Boozer and Mirotic doesn’t come over, they are suddenly without any starting-caliber power forwards.

The recent meetings between Mirotic and Chicago could go a long way towards assessing how big a risk putting Gibson on the trading block would be.

The 2014 NBA draft

Finally, the Bulls need to consider the 2014 NBA draft, which is commonly believed to be one of the deepest in recent memory.

DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 03:  Jabari Parker #1 of the Duke Blue Devils drives the baseline against Zak Irvin #21 of the Michigan Wolverines during play at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 3, 2013 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 79-69.  (Photo by Grant
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Among the top players is Chicago native, Jabari Parker, who attended the same high school, Simeon, as Rose. Parker is a potential superstar in the league. Obviously, if the Bulls were able to somehow get him, it would be a coup. Having a superstar, hometown tandem would be a boon for ticket sales.

How realistic is it that the Bulls could land such a high pick though? As constructed, not very. In spite of their awful 9-13 record, they are currently holding the 8-seed in the East, and they are a mere two games out of the 3-seed. That’s how weak the East is at present.

On the other hand, they are only 2.5 games better than the fourth-worst record in the NBA. Trading Deng and Gibson for future assets would certainly help them improve their own draft status and perhaps add another first-round pick/young player whom they can develop.

Then again, tanking can also be bad for business, and has no assurances that it works. Draft picks are a lot like brand new cars: They lose 20 percent of their value as soon as you drive them off the lot.

The potential for turmoil

If the Bulls were to go all-in on rebuilding, certainly trading Gibson would help because of both the improved draft status and the amount of money they’d have to spend in free agency.

However, even there, other implications need to be considered, such as the happiness of Tom Thibodeau and Derrick Rose.

Thibodeau has had an oft-reported feud with management, and he has made no secret that he wants the Bulls to keep Deng around.

Now there is a report that Rose wants no part of a rebuilding project.

(Personally, I take that report with a sizable grain of salt considering that Rose has a pretty resolute history of wanting to stay out of management decisions. Also, it’s a report, singular, not reports, plural. Only one person is reporting it, and everyone else is sourcing that report. Without corroboration, I’m skeptical.)

Having said that, management probably needs to get on the horn with Rose and smooth things out if they aren’t already smooth.

Either way, it’s hard to say how much you plan your team around the concerns of a player who has played 48 games in three seasons.

Regardless of exactly how much you weight they give to Rose’s and Thibodeau’s concerns, the front office does at least need to hear out the two most important people to the future of the franchise.

Determining whether Gibson should be traded right now is an enormously nuanced question. With so many other unanswered variables, it’s impossible to answer. What could they get for him? What happens with Deng? With Rose? With Thibodeau? With Moritic? With Boozer?

Until they have an idea of what those answers are going to be, it’s impossible to say. What is possible to say is that it would be irresponsible to not consider it. At the very least, Gar Forman and John Paxson need to be on the phone investigating what they could get in return for Gibson.

It’s only when all the variables are known that the Bulls can make a responsible decision, and the front office’s job right now is determining what those answers are.


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