By Rob Mahoney
The Chicago Bulls were tasked with paying Taj Gibson according to either independent negotiations or at a level decided by the open market. Unsurprisingly, they opted for the former.
According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, Gibson and the Bulls agreed to terms on a four-year extension a few hours before Wednesday's deadline. The payout value of Gibson's deal has yet to be completely determined; depending on whether Gibson meets specific performance incentives, the final value of his extension could be worth anywhere from roughly $32 million to $38 million over its four-year duration.
That's an outstanding value for a player that, frankly, the Bulls couldn't afford to lose. Mobile bigs capable of propping up the back line of a team defense don't come around all that often, and Chicago has already let one such player go in declining to match Houston's offer sheet on Omer Asik this past summer. Joakim Noah is a quick-rotating, hard-hedging fixture in Chicago's starting lineup, but its Gibson that gives the second unit its backbone; a defense as systemically sound as that of the Bulls warrants personnel who can consistently execute its mandates, and Gibson is one of the few uniquely qualified to do so.
If that weren't reason enough to secure his place in Chicago, then Carlos Boozer's precarious position with the franchise surely is. Based on the Bulls cap projections and on-court limitations, it's fairly safe to assume that Boozer will be a victim of the amnesty clause at some point before his contract expires in 2015. Chicago's underwhelming power forward is under contract for two more seasons following this one, and will earn more than $32 million in those two years alone. That kind of salary is brutal for a taxpaying team that's just tacked on another $8 million or so per season with Gibson's extension, particularly given how expendable Boozer has looked over the last year and change. The Bulls are sorely lacking in shot creation, but Boozer — despite his offensive bent — hasn't offered much of a solution. That makes his overall value far slimmer than one might expect given his scoring averages, and has led to Thibodeau leaning on Gibson in crucial situations. Every bit of evidence available seems to point to a Boozer departure, with a precise exit timeline all that's left to be determined. Prioritizing Gibson is the right play for the Bulls, though it need be said that this extension isn't exactly congruent to those given to other 2009 draftees. All of those extended are working with roughly the same level of experience, but Gibson — a three-year college player unusually old for his class — is already 27 years old. That's a significant difference relative to the the 23-year-old James Harden or 22-year-old Jrue Holiday, and gives this extension a decidedly different context. Put simply: the Bulls, unlike the Rockets or Sixers (among others) with their respective extendees, aren't paying for potential. They're writing checks to compensate Gibson as a player further along his developmental curve, and without much hope of making a substantial leap from this point forward. He's still worth every penny, but without even the remote chance of stardom.