Bulls power forward Taj Gibson, who finished second in the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year voting, will reportedly shift into a starting role next season at the expense of incumbent starter Carlos Boozer.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday that Gibson was told by the team "to get [his] body and mind right to be a starter." Gibson, 28, averaged 13 points and 6.8 rebounds in 28.7 minutes per game last season for the Bulls. Gibson discussed the move with the Sun-Times via phone:
“I mean this will be exciting. This is what I’ve always thought about. When I started [those six games] for Boozer when he was hurt during the season, I just know how excited I was, how good it felt to come to the arena.’’
In a strange twist, Gibson then denied the report on Friday evening, telling The Game Chicago's Jarrett Payton that the team had not told him he would be starting next season.
Gibson later reiterated that position from his own Twitter account.
The Bulls selected the 6-foot-9 Gibson with the 26th overall pick in the 2009 draft out of USC. In five seasons with Chicago he's become a valuable asset on the defensive end and earned the trust of coach Tom Thibodeau, often spelling Boozer, 32, in late-game situations.
As Gibson prepares to play a larger role this fall, the decision also signals the likely end of Boozer's tenure in Chicago. Gibson's success makes Boozer expendable and the veteran is coming off the worst of his four seasons as a Bull. Boozer averaged 13.7 points and and 8.3 rebounds and will be owed $16.8 million next season, the last of a five-year deal.
With the Bulls being linked to superstars Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love this offseason, it's been widely speculated that Boozer could be amnestied or traded to clear cap space for a major addition. Although the size of his expiring contract makes shipping him off a difficult task, it could also be a useful trade chip in obtaining a star with a similar salary.
The reported decision to start Gibson and impending Boozer exit will likely be the first of several key off-season decisions for Chicago, who hold the 16th and 19th picks in the first round of next month's draft.