Bulls' Gibson dilemma mirrors Thunder's Harden situation

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Bulls' Gibson dilemma mirrors Thunder's Harden situation

On certain nights, the Bulls can have their cake and eat it, too. That was the case in Friday's home win over the Timberwolves, in which starting power forward Carlos Boozer scored a preseason-high 24 points and snagged nine rebounds, to go with four apiece of assists and steals, while understudy Taj Gibson notched a double-double of 12 points and 11 boards, along with swatting a trio of Minnesota shot attempts.

However, when games like that occur, it only complicates matters for the organization. It's no secret that the deadline for the Bulls to sign Gibson to a long-term contract extension is Oct. 31, the same day the team opens the regular season by hosting the visiting Sacramento Kings.

On multiple occasions, the fourth-year USC product has expressed his optimism at reaching an agreement, as has his agent, the Chicago-based Mark Bartelstein. Prior to Friday's game, Gibson had some uneven performances in the Bulls' first five exhibition contests, leading to quiet speculation that he was understandably preoccupied with his contract situation and not completely focused at the task hand.

That changed against the Timberwolves, as he played up to the standards -- in terms of his impact, as his value on the floor can't always be accurately measured statistically -- many observers had for him. When Gibson is at his best, he's a force on both ends of the glass, making dynamic plays, displaying his ever-burgeoning offensive game and showcasing his elite defensive abilities, it prompts Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to rave about his ongoing development.

"I think with his experience he has gotten more comfortable. The best leadership you can have is by doing the right things each and every day," said the coach. "He does that. He comes here early, he stays late, he practices hard, prepares well. Hes a good teammate."

His teammates, even new ones like fellow reserve big man Nazr Mohammed, gush similarly, if more overtly: "I love that guy. When you get young players in this league who work as hard as he works and are good guys, it's great to play with guys like that," proclaimed the veteran Chicago native.

"I've played with a lot of good guys and I like the direction the league is going in, as far as teams paying more attention to not only getting good players, but paying more attention to getting good people and he's one of those guys. Look at him, he's out there working now," he continued, pointing out Gibson getting in extra work at the Berto Center after Monday's practice, a common sight. "He's very versatile, can knock down elbow and corner jump shots. He's got a great post game, hook shots and pump fakes. He's explosive, good defender, shot-blocker. What more can I say? He does all the things that he needs to do well and he's still a young player, and he's still working."

Gibson is still most renowned to casual fans for posterizing Miami's Dwyane Wade back in the Bulls-Heat 2011 playoff series, but to those around the league, he's viewed as a solid player with upside capable of helping any team, as well as someone destined for a major payday, either by the end of this month or next summer. Whether the Bulls decide to ante up or not seems like a no-brainer to league sources, simply because of how the team has benefited from the former 26th overall draft pick's contributions since he first arrived in Chicago.

But according to a person with knowledge of the situation, the two sides are still a ways apart.

Part of that could be due to the fact that it's hard to put a price tag on what Gibson brings to the table -- versatility, efficiency and a host of other intangibles that don't necessarily include being a protoypical top-tier player at his position, with the 20-and-10 numbers to go along with that label -- and if he's seeking a similar deal to his peers, in the 8-10 million per year range, that would be tough to justify with four other players, including one, Boozer, who starts at his position already making eight-figure annual salaries. Because when Boozer's at his best, rebounding with authority, knocking down an assortment of mid-range shots, making strong post moves, setting up teammates with his underrated, passing, running the floor in transition and determined to make a concerted effort within the Bulls' vaunted defense, it leads Thibodeau to effusively praise the much-maligned player.

"I like the way Carlos played. He's been practicing well and I thought he got going early. He got into a good rhythm. We were playing inside-out. We've got to search him out more in transition. He was running the floor hard. We've got to make sure we're finding him," he said. "We've been stressing playing inside-out more. He's got to get touches in there and I thought they did a good job of seeking him out early in the game, and they were giving him more than one look. So, he's running the floor. If he has his man pinned in the paint with two feet in the paint, his numbers have shown that he's got to get the ball and he did a much better job, I think, of sealing when the ball was swung. He's got to continue to work on that and I thought his effort on the board was good. He was a multiple-effort type guy Friday and he's capable of doing that all the time."

More and more, Boozer himself shies away from specifically acknowledging his own positive outings, even when absolutely warranted, as he's perhaps weary of the constant brow-beating he takes from fans and the media alike, and more focused on letting his game do the talking.

"Every week, I'm getting a little better. Every week, we're getting a little bit better, getting a little more comfortable with each other out there again and improving. That's the biggest thing, trying to improve every day," he said. "The regular season will be here soon and I think everybody loves having a good game. That gets your confidence going."

In an ideal world, the Bulls would be able to hang on to both players, riding out one of the league's top positional duos until at least the end of Boozer's contract. But the reality of the NBA's new salary-cap structure forces the front office's hand, giving them the options of cutting costs significantly (the team hasn't yet used the amnesty provision, something every franchise can use once over the life of the current collective-bargaining agreement; presumably, Boozer would be the casualty next summer) in order to pay Gibson without penalty when his new deal kicks in, letting him hit the open market (a la the departed Omer Asik; Gibson would likely fetch a similarly appealing offer) with the ability to match, simply letting him walk or an even more unlikely scenario, trading him.

Believe the organization's brass when you hear how much they value Gibson, a point of pride for the Bulls, who unearthed a gem -- he was a first-team NBA all-rookie team selection and a starter for the majority of his debut campaign -- that many didn't even see as a worthy first-round pick. But also know that stranger things have happened and in comparison to the dilemma facing the Bulls' preseason opponent Tuesday night, Oklahoma City, they're in far less dire straits.

Reigning NBA Sixth Man of the Year award winner James Harden, a gold medalist from this past summer's Olympics, is in the same boat as Gibson and while the Bulls understand they'll have to make a hefty financial commitment to hold off suitors, it pales in comparison to the near certainty that Harden will command a max contract. The Thunder can appeal to the shooting guard all they want about the opportunity their current group, which includes scoring champion Kevin Durant, fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook and last season's league shot-blocking leader, Serge Ibaka -- who himself was rewarded with a new long-term deal over the summer -- has for years to come, but it's hard to argue that Harden would not only make out better elsewhere financially, but also have the chance to showcase his unique talents on an individual stage.

Mohammed, who remains close with his former teammates, reluctantly shared his view of the situation with CSNChicago.com.

"It's not for me to think about, to be honest with you. As a honest and as a friend, one thing every guy in this league always says is, 'Hey, get your money.' You want to see other guys get their money, get paid. He's in a position where he can do both win and get paid, so it comes down to how he feels about it," said the center, revealing a basic truth about both the NBA and the world as a whole. "I don't know how much they offered him, I don't know how far they're apart. All I know is that James is a good guy, I love the dude and I want him to get his money, and at the same time, I'm a fan of the Thunder organization, I'm a fan of his teammates and I would love to see him get his money, and still be able to stay with that organization, but it's business and I don't get into people's business. I wouldn't want anybody telling me about my business because they don't know what's going on behind closed doors."

That last sentence might be the most salient point when it comes to outside opinions about the contract negotiations of athletes, as fans, on an increasingly frequent basis, blister organizations for not doing enough to retained beloved players or accuse former favorite players, who typically have 15 years, at best, to maximize their earning potential after years of hard work to get to the highest level of their sport, of disloyalty for leaving for perceived greener pastures, financial or otherwise.

Look, based off a semi-educated guess, it appears likely that Gibson remains a Bull in the foreseeable future, but if he doesn't, that blame shouldn't rest with either the team or the player himself, but rather the fact that both sides -- in Gibson's case, making the best decision for his future and for the Bulls, predicting what basketball and financial decisions will get them back on the path of title contention -- have to make the most prudent long-term choice and unfortunately, that probably doesn't include the Bulls having their cake and eating it, too.

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

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AP

Morning Update: Dwyane Wade comes up clutch in close win vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

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Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

Dwyane Wade gets a little help but saves the day defensively vs. Kings

It was a gift and the Bulls weren't going to look it in the mouth as Dwyane Wade was poised to finish off another one of his sterling defensive plays with a breakaway dunk with the game tied and Arron Afflalo and DeMarcus Cousins trailing.

Lightly touched by the small of his back by Cousins, Wade miscalculated his liftoff and missed the dunk but was bailed out by the refs for a foul with 14 seconds left.

Then, he bailed the Bulls out.

Wade had his fifth fourth-quarter defensive play, stripping Cousins on a steal on the ensuing possession with the Sacramento Kings having a chance to win, leading to a Michael Carter-Williams dunk and finishing a 102-99 win Saturday night at the United Center.

It was a clock-turning performance for Wade on both ends of the floor, even if his missed dunk is a reminder that he is 35 years old. 

"I took off too far as I look at the instant replay," Wade said. "I should've took maybe one more dribble. Can't say I felt 35, I just took off too far (laughs). But hey, sometimes you get calls, sometimes you don't. I'm a person who hasn't gotten a lot all year so I'm not gonna apologize for nothing."

Stripping Cousins on his spin move was the finale, but he swatted an Arron Afflalo corner triple in the fourth, smothered Ty Lawson at the rim twice for blocked shots to end the third and tortured Lawson again in the fourth for another steal that led to him following up a Jimmy Butler missed layup with a follow and foul.

"Just a read," said Wade on stripping Cousins. "We knew he was gonna go to DeMarcus at that point. Once we forced him left, I knew he had to come back to the right hand. And being in the right place at the right time, the ball was right there for me."

Wade played like a desperate and motivated man, putting up 30 with six rebounds and four assists on the second night of a back-to-back is proof positive he took Friday's loss to Atlanta personally and used his play to back up those feelings.

He took to twitter to apologize for the poor effort against the Hawks, producing his best all-around performance as a Bull.

"We've been good in desperate moments," Wade said. "We haven't been good in non-desperate moments, when we win three in a row or playing a team that we should beat. But (in) the desperate moments I like us."

He scored 13 in the fourth, along with the last of his four blocked shots and all three of his steals took place in the final 12.

"I thought he was terrific," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He was aggressive all game long, taking the ball to the basket, getting to the line 15 times. He came up with two big plays."

Hoiberg threw out different lineups and rotations, playing Paul Zipser as a sixth man and having the second-round draft pick close the game. Zipser took advantage, hitting three triples and scoring 13 points.

"I thought it was night and day from last night," Hoiberg said. "Our energy was really good all night long. We got just enough stops to find a way to win."

Cousins dominated the game with 42 and 14 rebounds in 35 minutes, the only Kings player in double figures all night.

"He was pretty much unguardable for the majority of the game, Taj did a solid job on him," Hoiberg said. "When Robin was on him, they put him on the perimeter and let him shoot threes. He's a monster."

Back-to-back triples from Cousins gave him 40 and tied the game at 97, as a third one rimmed out with a little under two minutes left.

Cousins dominated the start of the third quarter, hitting midrange jumpers over Lopez and taunting the Bulls bench after hitting a jumper to put the Kings ahead, 70-63 midway through the third.

But the Bulls stayed close, with Hoiberg choosing to sit Rajon Rondo for the second half after playing him six minutes in the second quarter, using Wade as a point guard and going with Carter-Williams for defense, along with Zipser, who didn't look scared of the moment.

"I like the wrinkle coach put in there, putting him in early," Wade said. "He gave him an opportunity and he helped us big time."

Butler scored 23 with seven assists and five rebounds in 39 minutes, didn't have to play the hero for once and made fun of Wade's apology tweet.

"He was due for a big night," Butler said. "He can tweet again if he can come out again and give us 30 and some big steals and big dunks."

"I think that's what called of him, to score baskets and guard. It's kinda sneaky. You never really expect it until it happens."

It looked like the worst was over when the Bulls made a short run to end the third, surviving the onslaught from Cousins — and surviving their own experimenting with Zipser instead of going with Denzel Valentine, switching things up altogether.

But the tone was set by the leaders, who can only manufacture but so much urgency on a nightly basis.

"I like this team when we're desperate," Wade said. "A desperate team, we're not bad."