For Tom Thibodeau and Taj Gibson, one of the biggest disappointments of the NBA lockout was that it separated the two and barred them from working together at the Chicago Bulls’ practice facility. This summer has been a revival, leaving an opportunity to again seek partnership. Everyone knows Thibodeau is always preparing and searching for any way to give his team an edge, but often times this summer he’s studied to the sound of Gibson putting up shots down on the court.
The player-coach relationship between Gibson and Thibodeau has blossomed over the past three years, an alliance built on respect for each other’s work ethic. Gibson knew his jump shot regressed a season ago, so he spent the summer sharpening his stroke as well as bulking up for an upcoming campaign in which Thibodeau has made clear his plans to give more minutes to Gibson.
Both Thibodeau and Gibson, however, have uncertain futures with the Bulls. For a franchise already reeling after Derrick Rose’s torn ACL and an offseason where the bench cast was dismantled, the Bulls’ top priorities should be to secure both Thibodeau and Gibson to long-term deals. Yet as of now, it isn’t beyond possibility that one of the two – or both – spend next summer as members of different organizations.
Thibodeau’s presence still gives the Bulls their best chance to contend for a high seed in the Eastern Conference standings this season. As long as he’s roaming the Bulls’ sidelines, the belief across the league is that he will find a route to gut out victories.
Yes, the Bulls continue their dialogue with Thibodeau about a contract extension past the 12-13 option season that was picked up months ago, but nothing is imminent, a league source said. There’s really no excuse for the Bulls not to do what so many around the league – from Charles Barkley to current and former coaches – are emphatically stating: Pay Thibodeau.
“Let me tell you this, [Thibodeau] will have a job within a week if they don’t take care of him,” Barkley told a local radio station on Thursday.
So, what has held back a deal, even after Scott Brooks set a precedent this summer when he reached a four-year, $16 million deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder? By all accounts, the Bulls’ hierarchy is still seething over the fact that it had to pay Scott Skiles $4 million after he was fired in 2007, and privately, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf doesn’t fully believe in the power of coaching. There also had been a sense that Thibodeau panicked at times early in the Bulls’ first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers, that he struggled to combat Doug Collins’ adjustments.
Nevertheless, Thibodeau’s contract negotiations should have gone much more seamlessly up to this point. Unlike Skiles, Thibodeau’s locker room doesn’t consist of any uneasiness, any lack of confidence regarding whether he is the right man to lead players. Up and down the roster, Thibodeau is respected and well regarded. He’s sold his mantra to his players in each of the past two seasons – and they’ve bought in. Most importantly, Thibodeau has won convincingly, taking the Bulls where Skiles never did, and he has a star on his side and significant role players like Joakim Noah and Luol Deng publicly willing to go to bat for him.
The Bulls also would be validated to ink Gibson to a new deal, especially after witnessing Omer Asik command upwards of $8 million annually on the open market this summer. While talks surrounding Thibodeau have appeared tepid, Gibson and his camp are confident and optimistic about a deal being agreed upon before the Oct. 31 deadline.
Gibson’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, and Gar Forman have been working on a new deal for the better part of this offseason. The Bulls value Gibson and pride themselves on selecting him late in the first round of the 2009 draft, and Gibson loves being in Chicago. He loves the city and the Bulls and loves being around his teammates and coaching staff.
As much as Forman harps about the organization and Thibodeau seeing eye to eye on staying together long term, it is actually Gibson and the Bulls who seem to be just that: On the same page, closer to an extension.
“Both sides have the same interests: They value Taj and Taj loves being a Bull,” Bartelstein told RealGM in a phone conversation on Thursday. “He hopes to stay in Chicago.
“Both sides want a long-term marriage.”
After a trying offseason that had the Bulls ducking from committing to contracts they could get rid of, nothing but signing Thibodeau and Gibson to extensions will allow the organization to save face and end on a high note. From the court to the negotiating room, and back, during the offseason, this is a successful coach-player partnership, one it is up to Bulls management to maintain.