James Harden, the Thunder guard, NBAs reigning Sixth Man of the Year (though he started Tuesday night) and Olympic gold medalist, wanted no part of the question. After being bombarded since the beginning of training camp about his own looming deadline for a long-term contract extension, he understandably didnt feel right commenting about former Pac-10 (now the Pac-12) rival Taj Gibsons similar situation.
He works hard, said Harden, answering generically. Hes a great player on a great team. Hes done a great job these last couple of years.
In the home locker room at the United Center, Gibson was much more forthcoming about his fellow upper-echelon reserve and fourth-year pro, even dropping his guard about his own situation.
Ive known James since he was 14 years old, since he was in California playing AAU, so to see both of us in this situation now, its great. If you look at it, you have an opportunity to better yourself, better your family for a long time to come, Gibson told CSNChicago.com. But youve just got to be patient. I talked to him at the USA Basketball trials in Las Vegas, where Harden played with Olympic team and Gibson was a member of the Select team and hes not really thinking about it too much.
When youre in this situation, a lot of people are more focused on it than you. You just have to let it slide off your shoulders. Joakim Noah was talking about to me about it a couple of days ago, but I always just shrug it off. I really dont even think about it, he continued. When you think about it, it kind of takes you away from the basketball aspect of it. But you really cant do anything about it, except worry about what you can take care of and thats the court work. Your agent and the GM has to worry about that.
Serge Ibaka, Hardens teammate and like Gibson, one of the top young defensive power forwards in the NBA, got his extension during the offseason, a major reason the Thunder still havent come to terms with Harden. When asked about his Bulls counterpart, the native of the Congo (via Spain), spoke freely about his admiration for Gibson.
Hes tough, man. He brings some energy, he can rebound, he runs the floor, he can shoot the ball, he plays defense. You dont have a lot of big guys that come off the bench and do the kind of stuff he does, said Ibaka. A player like Taj, any team would take him and I just wish him good luck. I know he will keep working to get better and better.
Tuesday wasnt one of Gibsons better preseason outings, but even in a game where his impact wasnt shown in the box score, just willing to be physical mattered in a game like the Bulls win over the short-handed Thunder. Ibaka and Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins were embroiled in a hoops battle royale with Bulls starting big men Noah and Carlos Boozer, in particular, all night long.
They played well. Theyre good players and yeah, theyre competitive, said Noah. It had a regular-season feel to it and I felt like we played pretty hard. It just feels good to get that competitive feeling back.
I think its just more about us, more than anything right now. Its just more about coming out with the right mindset. I think we did that today, which was pretty good and we competed. We competed hard we got better as a group. Weve just got to keep fighting, get better this last week of the preseason and get ready for the home opener, he added, before cryptically commenting on Perkins, his nemesis in the epic Bulls-Celtics 2009 first-round playoff series. Its been going on a long time. Its been going on a long time.
Countered Ibaka: Its basketball. Thats why I love it. Me and Perk, we love itthose two guys Boozer and Noah, theyre really tough.
Added Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: You have to win a lot of different ways, so we have to be able to play physical and win, and not allow that to take away from what were trying to get accomplished out there. So, I think we can play that way. Theyre tough. Ive coached Perkins. I know how good he is defensively. Hasheem Thabeet, I thought, was very good for them. Ibaka was great. Theyve got a tough frontline.
Like Gibson, backup center Nazr Mohammed has had better days during the Bulls exhibition campaign. However, that doesnt mean he wasnt missed by his old team, as Thunder players and coaches showed the veteran, now playing for his hometown squad, plenty of love after the contest.
Nazr, first of all, hes a professional, a good guy. Hes the kind of guy, if you have him on the team, youll be happy. He works hard, hes a good example and I think hell a lot on this team the Bulls, especially coming off the bench, said Ibaka. He helped me become a better professional. Every time I did something, a mistake or whatever, hed help me.
Chimed in Brooks: He was a big part of our success. That guys a true professional. He works every day. Ive been around players, they work when the light is on, but hes always working, always putting in extra time in the weight room, in the cardio room, on the practice floor. Hes somebody that you want your young players to be around and he can still play. He had some good games for us. He didnt play much in the playoffs, but he was a big part of our success the last two years. Just his work ethic, the professionalism and his ability to rebound, and play defense and make a shot.