The Man who lived on the trading block

Published by Axel on Thursday, February 23, 2017
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There are some players who never seem to be able to escape the rumor mills around the NBA, constantly being involved in trade talks. Chicago Bulls forward Taj Gibson is one of the better examples in the league.

Gibson has seemingly been involved in trade talks since the day he was born, or at least since he entered the league in 2009. He was selected as a late first rounder with the 26th overall pick and wasn't expected to see much playing time at all during his rookie season.

As NBA veteran Drew Gooden was traded to the Kings in February of 2009, there were high hopes within the Bulls camp that athletic freak Tyrus Thomas would finally develop into the player everyone had hoped for when he got traded for LaMarcus Aldridge on draft night in 2006. With just four games played of the 2009-10 season, Thomas fractured his forearm during practice and the starting position once again needed to be filled.

Gibson, who entered the University of Southern California as the oldest freshman in the country back in 2006, was already a grown man and relatively NBA ready when he entered the big league, which might perhaps be one explanation to why he managed to outwork Bulls' other power forward and rookie, James Johnson, in the rotation. Mind you that Johnson was picked with the 16th overall pick, 10 picks before Gibson in the very same draft.

With great hops and impressive rim protection, Gibson did so well that Thomas was unable to get back into the starting lineup once he returned. Gibson ended that year averaging 9.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 0.6 steals and 1.3 blocks in 26.9 minutes per game. At the end of the season, he was awarded with a well-earned spot on the NBA All-Rookie First Team.

At the time, the prospects from the 2009 draft didn't look that strong, with players like .371-shooting Brandon Jennings and Darren Collison making the All-Rookie First Team, and Tyreke Evans winning the Rookie of the Year award. Had the Bulls scored an instant starter with the 26th overall pick in a draft that looked so weak? Not exactly.

With a lot of great players becoming free agents in the summer of 2010, the Bulls - among many other teams - had high hopes of signing a big time star, so they cleared enough space to be able to sign two maximum deals. The targets were instantly set on Chicago born Dwyane Wade and reigning MVP LeBron James. While coming close, it didn't happen, and Chicago therefore went for the consolation prize in Carlos Boozer and role players like Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans. The Bulls instantly developed into one of the best teams in the league. The move was praised in the aftermath and General Manager Gar Forman went on to win the NBA Executive of the Year award at the end of the season.

Another note of the aftermath was that the draft class of 2009 wasn't weak at all. Blake Griffin, who missed his rookie season eventually turned out pretty good. So did Stephen Curry, James Harden, DeMar DeRozan, Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague. They just needed some time.

As for Gibson, it meant that he lost the role as the teams' starting power forward to Carlos Boozer, equally as fast as he gained it the year before. Instead of getting increased time on the floor, Gibson's time was reduced to 21.8 minutes per game in 2010-11, and 20.4 minutes per game in 2011-12. There's no question to whether this hampered his ability to develop, as it would do so to any promising, relatively young talent. But Taj never complained - hard hat, lunch pail, always punching the clock.

Bulls fans came to know Taj Gibson as someone who leaves his all on the floor no matter what. A scrappy rebounder and an even better shot blocker. He had a solid post game and his high-arched 18-footer will forever be imprinted in my brain. Even if he wasn't starting games, his defensive presence earned him the position to end them. A lot of Bulls fans even wanted him to start over Boozer, a former All-Star who still averaged about 16 points and 9 rebounds per game.

With Derrick Rose out and Luol Deng traded for an injured - and instantly waived - Andrew Bynum just 23 games into the season, Taj Gibson stepped up and played a very important role on the team. At the end of the season, Taj was averaging 13.0 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.1 assists, .5 steals and 1.4 blocks in 28.7 minutes per game and fell short with just a few votes for the Jamal Crawford Sixth Man of the Year award to none other than... Jamal Crawford.

Gibson improved even further in the short playoff run the Bulls saw in 2014, averaging 18.2 points and 2.4 blocks per game while shooting .561 from the floor. His value in the league was higher than ever and as per usual Gibson was involved in virtually every single trade rumor surrounding the Chicago Bulls. But it never seemed to happen. Even though Taj had a high value around the league, his value was even higher among the Bulls. His mentality was exactly what the Bulls represented and he played a perfect role within Tom Thibodeau's system. This is one of the reasons why so many of us Bulls fans have taken part in discussions to defend Gibson's value as a player. Perhaps it was always higher to us than to anyone else.

With an expiring contract in the summer of 2017, we all knew that this was probably it. The last season where we would get to see Taj Gibson play in the red jersey. With the league turning to small ball, power forwards without long range are a dying breed, and as this years trade window approached, it almost felt as it was for certain that the Bulls would trade him instead of letting him go in free agency.

I have to admit that it's been a few days since I initially started typing this post, but I still wish that he would have survived the trade rumors one last time to end the season as a Bull, instead of getting traded when his value is so low that the return comes in the form of Joffrey Lauvergne, Anthony Morrow and Cameron Payne, all players who average a negative Box Plus/Minus value of at least 3.1.

The trade - which sends him to Oklahoma City - also included Doug McDermott. This essentially means that the trade to get Doug in before the draft in 2014 now cost Chicago two 1st rounders and three 2nd rounders. Well done, GarPax!

After 562 regular season games, 56 playoff games and almost 8 seasons, one of the most beloved players in recent time is leaving.

Thank you and good luck, Taj. I will miss your posters!