As we get set for the upcoming Bulls season, let's take a closer look at each player on the projected roster. It’s a roster which has been the subject of more debate and excitement than any other in recent memory.
Player: Taj Gibson
2010-2011 salary: $1,117,680, in second year of rookie deal.
Role for Bulls in 2010-’11: Gibson will be a jack of all trades for Tom Thibodeau this season. After starting most of last year under Vinny Del Negro, Gibson continued to show improvement as the year progressed, averaging nine points and almost eight rebounds a game while playing in all 82 regular-season contests. He proved to be one of the biggest steals of the draft at No. 26, earning an invitation to play in the Rookie/Sophomore Game during All Star Weekend. Unlike most rookies, the USC alum embraced the concept of defense, and he became a Del Negro favorite because of his team-first attitude. At 25, he is more mature than most young players who come into the league.
With the addition of Carlos Boozer, Gibson will come off the bench this season, but he still is expected to get plenty of minutes as one of the better sixth men in the league. He can play both forward positions and will most likely be used as a defensive presence late in games. After struggling to find his offense in the beginning of last year, Gibson has spent a lot of time in the gym working on his jumper, and he should be able to expand his range.
The key for Gibson will be to stay healthy. Yes, he played in all 82 regular season games last year, but like Joakim Noah, he battled plantar fasciitis for most of the season. Gibson worked throughout the summer with the Bulls' training staff to get rid of the recurring medical issue, and he told me a couple weeks ago that he is finally healthy.
What happened this summer? Aside from the almost constant therapy to get rid of the plantar fasciitis, Gibson was the subject of a lot of trade rumors. It was rumored that he could be part of a package to Toronto for Chris Bosh, or more recently as part of a deal that would send Carmelo Anthony to Chicago. Clearly, the Bulls aren't the only team that sees Gibson's potential for years to come. He understands that his name will continue to pop up as part of trade speculation as long as he is playing well.
"Every time I turn around [I hear something]," he told me a few weeks ago. "But it's a part of the game. My coach in high school -- and even my dad -- told me when your name doesn't pop up then you have to be worried. But that's what happens when you have a good season and people seem to see that you have a lot more potential -- it's great. I'm just looking forward to getting to the season and hopefully getting even better."
Best-case scenario: Gibson once again plays in all 82 games and continues to improve. He shoots the ball with even more confidence and continues to play solid defense in Thibodeau's new system. He provides the Bulls with the energy off the bench. His ability to play multiple roles for this team, including an improved low post game, allows Thibodeau to use him constantly as a backup to both Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer and pushes him towards a Sixth Man of the Year Award.
Worst-case scenario: The plantar fasciitis which just won't seem to go away returns and knocks the young forward out for a few months. His range doesn't get any better, and he struggles to find the consistent playing time. The injury lingers for the entire season and hampers his ability to play the type of defense that Thibodeau desires, thus limiting his minutes on the floor.
Bottom line: Considering Gibson shot 49 percent from the field last season, quickly became a solid locker room presence and played defense with more enthusiasm than most rookies have to spend their first checks, the Bulls will be happy if he has exactly the same kind of season that he did a year ago.