HANG TIME CHICAGO – Maybe, if the Chicago Bulls get a deal done with forward Taj Gibson close to tipoff of their 2012-13 season opener against Sacramento, they can have him sign it at midcourt. Imagine the Opening Night drama of a darkened arena, save for one spotlight on Gibson as he puts pen to paper on the back of Benny The Bull.
Maybe the contract extension talks that still had the player and his team several million dollars apart goes right to the witching hour (midnight ET / 11 p.m. CT) before they’re complete. This is, after all, Halloween.
Or maybe the Bulls and Gibson, their valuable and still-budding big man off the bench, don’t come to terms at all. That would throw yet another looming question over a team already playing under a cloud of uncertainty over Derrick Rose‘s comeback from knee surgery.
Chicago has three options with Gibson. Once the deadline for fourth-year players such as himself, Stephen Curry, Jrue Holiday, Brandon Jennings, Tyreke Evans and a few others, Gibson and the Bulls will be down to one:
- Option 1: Reach an agreement on a four-year, multimillion deal that keeps Gibson in Chicago’s rotation and plans for the long haul. The two sides were said to be about $8 million apart over the contract’s value, the Chicago Tribune reported.
- Option 2: Hit the deadline without a deal. Gibson would become a restricted free agent in July and the Bulls would be able to match any offer sheets that came his way. This is like signing your guy now, only letting some general manager other than Gar Forman negotiate the price.
- Option 3: Go all James Harden on Gibson and his agent, Mark Bartelstein.
Sound extreme? Forman, when asked about the two sides’ progress, said he truly didn’t know what the outcome would be. As for Option 3, deployed by Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti when the Thunder couldn’t close a reported gap of $6-8 million in similar talks with their coveted Sixth Man award winner, Forman said: “You have to look at everything.”
The Thunder swallowed hard and, over the weekend, rocked their Western Conference-defending boat by trading Harden to Houston, salvaging the situation with Kevin Martin and some pieces for the future. Would the Bulls similarly meet Wednesday’s deadline with a steely response?
Your initial reaction is to say no, that Gibson is vital to what the Bulls hope to do this season and beyond. They already lost backup center Omer Asik over the summer due to that backloaded offer from Houston to the restricted free agent. Moving Gibson would extract another huge chunk of the spine of coach Tom Thibodeau‘s protect-the-rim defense.
Also, the Bulls hit their fans over the heads plenty this offseason with roster moves driven more by finances than by basketball. The bench that was so valuable underwent an overhaul primarily because Nazr Mohammed, Marco Belinelli, Nate Robinson and Vladimir Radmanovic would work cheaper than Asik, Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and John Lucas III. Gibson is a popular, dynamic player who already is deserving of starter’s minutes. He’s been penciled in for Carlos Boozer‘s role should the veteran be amnestied after next season and would be more in sync with Rose’s career arc when Chicago gets serious again about contending for titles.
That doesn’t mean a trade couldn’t happen, either by the deadline Wednesday or by the annual cutoff in February.
Forman is a believer in the NBA’s new world order as dictated by the current collective bargaining agreement. He sees how difficult it will be for teams such as Oklahoma City to pay a roster bursting with talent, however grand the results. The accelerators in the luxury tax provisions for lavish spenders and repeat offenders are severe enough to give billionaire owners pause, and guys like Forman and Bulls VP John Paxson are mindful of all the restrictions that kick in, too, when it comes to team building above the tax threshold (loss of cap exceptions and such).
So while it’s smart negotiating to keep all options open until they’re no longer available, the way of the NBA world truly does require a GM to look at everything.
The Bulls are determined to avoid adding a fifth eight-figure salary to a 2013-14 payroll that already has Rose, Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah on the books for $58.2 million. That explains the $30-32 million offer cited by the Tribune.
But if Gibson hits the RFA market next summer, a team not burdened by the money commitments or the Boozer dynamic easily could offer him $40 million or more. The offer sheets can’t pack the sort of poison-pill back end that made Asik’s deal so onerous to Chicago — $15 million in Year 3 of the $25 million contract — but the overall price with raises of 7.5 percent still might curdle Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf‘s milk.
Gibson, who has been humble about the payday headed his way, also has grown weary of the uncertainty. He doesn’t seem the type who would become distracted (OKC’s fear with Harden) or embittered if a deal didn’t get done, but then, who ever knows? “Hopefully [we] get something done so I can just focus on basketball,” Gibson said after a practice this week. “I have great coaches and teammates who have me focused on the right things. I don’t think about it much. I turn my phone off. I go home and focus on the games ahead. It’s going to be a big year. We have guys down.”
They have guys gone, too, from the team that had the NBA’s best regular-season record the past two years. The Bulls’ championship hopes are on hold, awaiting an answer on Rose’s comeback and, at the moment, definitive word on Gibson’s future whereabouts. So it’s trick-or-treat tonight with six zeroes.