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How Taj Gibson Agreed To His Last-Minute, $34M Extension

The weight of Taj Gibson's extension negotiations with the Chicago Bulls started to get heavier as the Wednesday night deadline neared in a way it never did throughout the preseason. As bleak as the extension Gibson badly wanted looked late in the afternoon, his agent insisted minutes before the Bulls’ season tipped off against Sacramento: “Never say never. There’s still some time.”

And shortly thereafter, agent Mark Bartelstein made concerted efforts for a last-ditch meeting with Bulls' management. Bartelstein already planned to be at the United Center on Wednesday evening, but he called Bulls general manager Gar Forman before driving out and left a clear message both parties acknowledged: With the amount of money riding in these negotiations – millions and millions – let’s continue to explore every final option until the 11:59 PM ET deadline and keep every last door open. Indeed, there were Bartelstein, Forman and John Paxson packed in a United Center office room throughout the Bulls’ 93-87 win over Sacramento, talking over a new long-term deal for Gibson.

Bartelstein hoped for the Bulls to meet somewhere in the middle of the two sides’ offers, and once he got a respectable proposal to take back to Gibson, both player and agent discussed terms of the deal in a tense, cramped Bulls’ locker room. In the end, the money and security was too much to pass up for Gibson – never mind his love for Chicago and the organization. Yes, there had been resistance from Gibson’s camp to finally accept, because both his representatives and the Bulls understood throughout negotiations that Gibson would have a bevy of suitors lined up next summer.

But when the contract offer was formally laid out in front of him, Gibson knew he had to take it. He put the contract situation on the backburner all preseason long, but it had mostly begun to weigh on him heavily as the deadline grew closer.

It had been a long day and night on Wednesday, and only one ending would leave Gibson and the Bulls satisfied – the long-term commitment they equally desired. So with seconds to spare, Gibson and the Bulls agreed upon a four-year extension worth roughly $34 million guaranteed, and up to $38 to $39 million with individual- and team-based incentives, Bartelstein told RealGM early Thursday morning.

“Both sides have to feel good about the deal,” Bartelstein said by phone. “It’s a wonderful thing for Taj and I couldn’t be happier for him.

“[Chicago] is where he’s meant to be.”

While Gibson’s camp and the Bulls stressed over and over for months that the same goal of an extension agreement existed, the notion of the deal not getting done was being discussed in recent weeks. Yet, Gibson almost assuredly would have had a team or two throw him a huge contract offer next offseason, and more than anything, he desperately wanted to avoid ending up in a tough team situation – a “hellhole,” as he put. A new deal with the Bulls was weighing on his mind all October long, the anxiety reaching its peak on Wednesday, but relief, excitement and even tears burst forward once he inked it.

“That’s a lot of money to turn down,” Gibson told reporters after Wednesday’s game. “This is where I want to be, and the security, you can’t turn that down. … I want to retire here.”

Added Joakim Noah: “Taj is my young boy, so I’m really happy. It’s very well deserved. I see Taj’s grind every day and I know how much he fights every night to represent for the Bulls.”

Now, Gibson will be able to play stress-free, play until the wheels fall off, as he’s stated for years. He was terrific in avoiding and ignoring his contract talks throughout the summer and training camp, but the lack of a deal had made him glum. That’s in stark contrast to his mindset after the game, when he even broached his desire to start at power forward in the near future.

As long as Carlos Boozer remains with the Bulls, Gibson will be the backup, but the Bulls’ salary structure essentially assures that they will have to use the amnesty provision next offseason. The organization has long planned to implement the clause on Boozer, but Gibson’s new contract virtually guarantees it now – a scenario that would, in turn, leave Gibson as the surefire starter in 2013-14.

Gibson’s expressions before Wednesday’s game showed how unlikely an agreement seemed, but across the final hours, Bartelstein, Forman and Paxson understood there was too much at stake for the deadline to pass without a deal. When Bartelstein reached Forman on the phone as he drove to the United Center, he gave a message both parties agreed with: We can bridge the gap, adjust the current offer, and keep Gibson where his heart is. Sure enough, a last-minute deal was hatched.

 

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