From the outside looking in, things looked bleak for Taj Gibsons future with the Bulls as they played their season opener Wednesday night, an eventual win over the Sacramento Kings.
But behind the scenes, the Bulls brass, namely general manager Gar Forman, and Gibsons Chicago-based agent, Mark Bartelstein, were hammering out the final details of the fourth-year power forwards four-year, 38-million contract extension in the 11th hour before the league-wide 11 p.m. Central time deadline, which Bartelstein confirmed to CSNChicago.com shortly after Gibson spilled the beans.
Gibsons original request of 40 million over four years was deemed too high by the Bulls and the organizations offer of 32 million over the same span was considered too low by the player and his camp, so Forman and Bartelstein met in the middle, continuing negotiations while Gibson blocked four shots to help the Bulls start off the season on a good note. Afterwards, the relief was written all over the Brooklyn natives face.
They changed the outcome of the contract and this is where I want to be. Both sides just came together and got it done, Gibson said. It was just stagnant, but they finally came to an agreement. We just didnt want to go through this. Turned down a less amount of moneythe security.
Im relieved. I feel much better that we got a win today. But having Gar and Pax come in here and say that they want to keep me for a long time, it kind of brought tears to my eyes. I said I want to be here for a long time, I want to retire here. It was great, he continued. As soon as I came in, they were waiting for methey just really stressed how much we need to get this done. Its a load off my back and now I can focus on basketball.
I got my normal looks, tried to play hard, just do what I can and in the back of my head, I just went out there and did what I could. I couldnt really worry about signing or anything like that. Just wanted to go out there and play.
Gibsons teammates were overjoyed for the popular (amongst both fans and his peers) 27-year-old, calling him by his in-house nickname and jokingly suggesting that he should take them all out to eat at a fancy restaurant in celebration. Indeed, its hard not to root for the USC product, a lightly-regarded 26th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, who has morphed into a player respected across the league.
"We're excited about it. We said all along, Taj is an important part of our core moving forward. His development -- he's developed over the years -- is so important to how we play and how we defend. He fits the culture of who we want to be. We said it was very important that we get him signed. It did go down to the last minute, but we're very, very excited to have Taj in the fold for four more years after this year and I know he's very excited to be a Bull, Forman told CSNChicago.com.
"It was important to me to get this done because it's important to the team and to the organization. Taj is everything we want to be. You want to pay guys that put that type of effort out each and every day. We've talked about the window of opportunity we have to have success here and we feel Taj is a real important piece to that, thus we wanted to get him locked up long-term."
Concurred teammate Luol Deng, who has observed Gibsons progress since he first entered the league: Im excited, man. Im happy to see that. He deserves it. Works hard, deserves it.
Taj is a great player, man. Hes a guy you dont want to lose. Im glad theyre keeping him. He works hard. Nothings going to change. He definitely deserves it and Im happy to see it. Such a nice guy. Its always good to see that.
Added Carlos Boozer, the teams current starter at power forward, which is also Gibsons position: Im so excited for him. Listen, he works his butt off, man. Hes been amazing since Ive been here, getting better and better. Its scary how talented this kid is and were like a family. We dont want anybody to go. We want everybody to be here, thats how we approach it. Im super happy for Taj to get that deal done.
He did a great job of not trying to let it affect him. He came to the gym every day, was a professional, worked his butt off. He never talked about it, he wasnt trying to make it a distraction. But you could tell. I think its the second moment of truth and Im just happy for him. Its done and over with. Now, he can breathe and relax, just play ball, have security to take care of his family. All I can do is smile right now, continued Boozer.
It changes your life, man, to be honest. You worked your butt off for a long time. You can appreciate it. I remember my second contract, going to Utah. It changed my life. I was able to take care of my family, get my mom a crib, take care of my loved ones, my wife, my kids. It changes your life.
I just told him to relax, not to think about it. There was no way were going to let you get away from us and we need you with us to be successful. I think Pax and Gar did a good job of communicating that to him, as well. It was just a matter of ironing out some of the details. Even if it was at the 11th hour, they got it done.
Gibson has been deluged with questions about his contract extension since the beginning of training camp, which has only increased in recent days, particularly after fellow fourth-year players like Golden States Stephen Curry and Torontos DeMar DeRozan, his college teammate, were awarded extensions earlier in the day.
It probably would have been on my mind. Either way, you look at thats a lot of money and if you turn it down, you think about it at night. To some people, that may not be a lot of money, but youve got to look at the fact of the matter that theyre putting it in your face like, Here, and youve got to look at the injuries and its an even longer season this year, so you never know, Gibson explained.
Its draining. Its really draining because every day, somebody just asks you about it. Somebodys talking to you, telling you, You should take this. Most of the time, its people who really dont understand the game thats constantly in your face. You can get more, you should do that. Its all about if youre happy or notin the back of my head, you do want to see whats out there, but you dont want to be in some hellhole somewhere, just chasing the bucks and this is a great team here, its a great family organization.
Its more about winning, having a chance to just compete on a night-to-night basis on a solid team. Its a great organization. I dont have to worry about the terrible things behind the scenes, he added. You look at my draft class, a lot of guys arent even getting extensions. A lot of guys arent even seeing the kind of money that theyre offering me. A lot of guys are getting declined, but when I saw DeMar, I saw guys getting their deals done, I was like, Theres only so much time left to make a decision.
Gibson leaned heavily on Bartelstein, who would bring him coffee and McDonalds early in the morning while sharing new developments, for advice during the process.
It kind of dawned on me. I told them I didnt want to be a selfish player, I just wanted to get whats fair and I looked at the numbers. Its a lot of money, I cant really turn down that much money, especially for the security. You never know what can happen all through the year and my agent, He was great. he really talked to me. He talked to me like he was my father. I asked him, What do you think we should do? In this position, a lot of people can say a lot of different things like, Youre crazy, or You shouldnt have took that money, but when youre in this position, its hard. Its hard turning down that much money, knowing that you have to go through a whole season without injuries and knowing what you have to do, and having that chip on your shoulder night in and night out. You never know what can happen, Gibson said.
At the end of the day, I asked him, What do you think? Dont give me the bullcrap. Just be real with me, and he was real with me. He said, I dont want you to turn this down. He said, I know we can probably get more this summer, but its all about if youre happy or not. I want you to take this. Its too much of a risk to go out there. You never know what can happen.
The fact that its even a longer season, a lot of ups and downs, knowing that at any given moment, I could pull a groin, I could hurt my knee, knock on wood. Just having that security and knowing thats going to be there, no matter what, thats the main thing. I just didnt want to go out there and basically, get hurt, continued Gibson, who referenced teammate Derrick Roses injury.
There were a lot of players I didnt even think liked me, just talking to me. Back to the games we played in the preseason, guys were telling me, Good luck with your contract, good luck with this, rooting for you, just take your time, do whatever makes you happy, and it was great to know that. But it just came down to security. It came down to knowing you could take this or wait until next summer and go through all this whole stressful times over again in the summer. Or just take this elephant off your back and go out there and play freely. We just made a choice just now and it feels great.
I look back and just think, Wow, its just crazy, because I remember when I first got drafted, the heartbreak that I felt when I got drafted, people not knowing how good I could be, people just kind of slandering my name about not wanting me here and I had a chip on my shoulder from Day 1. And finally, to come down and see all the love I get throughout the city of Chicago and to see that the Bulls really want me hereit really means a lot, but I know Ive still got a long way to go and Im going to help this team win, he went on to say. Youve still got to realize that you can be traded at any given moment, but I told them before, Im not trying to chase every last dollar. Thats not my intention. I just want whats fair because I know I go out there and I bust my tail on a night-to-night basis, and I feel like I can be a starter in this league.