DEERFIELD, Ill.—Hosting his annual basketball camp Wednesday, Bulls big man Taj Gibson was forced to respond to a deluge of questions about recent trade rumors that have him potentially headed to Minnesota, in exchange for disgruntled Timberwolves’ All-Star power forward Kevin love, his college rival.
“It is tough, but it’s a part of the business. I’ve been in the league for a while now. I’ve been around some great veterans that tell me a lot about the game and one thing that they always say is be grateful that somebody wants you, be grateful to be in the NBA and just focus on your game. You can only do so much, but just focus on your game and focus on getting better,” Gibson explained. “But a lot of it is rumors. Sometimes, you never really know. Everybody has sources, but nobody ever comes out just says, ‘I heard it from this person.’ It’s always just sources.
“At times, I find it flattering because it just shows that work you’re putting and if other teams want you sometimes, it’s a good thing,” the Sixth Man of the Year award runner-up, coming off a career season, went on to say. “In the NBA, you never really know. Like I learned from the best, you’ve just got to focus on your game, continue to be open-minded, continue to get better and if anything happens, it happens. But Chicago’s my home. I look forward to playing in Chicago, hopefully for a long time. It’s just part of the business.”
While a league source confirmed to CSNChicago.com that the Bulls did indeed explore making a trade with the Timberwolves back in June, the newest round of rumors seems dubious because of the timing. Besides it being well-chronicled that Minnesota has been in discussions with Cleveland to potentially acquire No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, who remains unsigned, not only have the Bulls since signed veteran big man Pau Gasol in free agency, but neither rookie forward Nikola Mirotic and first-round draft pick Doug McDermott can be traded for 30 days after signing their recent deals, per NBA rules.
Regardless, the affable Gibson reiterated his desire to continue playing in Chicago, though he made it clear that he understands the nature of the league.
“Without a doubt. I’m a nonchalant guy, where I just go out and let my game speak for itself. But this place has been home for me. A lot of good things, so I’m looking forward to the future, but we’ll see what happens,” the Brooklyn native said. “I haven’t heard anything as of late from [the Bulls’ front office]. I talked to my agent [Chicago-based Mark Bartelstein] yesterday. He didn’t say anything about any trades. We’ll have to wait and see. But sometimes it can be a rumor, sometimes it can actually happen. But that’s part of my job. It happens every year since I’ve been in the NBA, so I’ve got to keep rolling with the punches, I guess.
“Of course it would hurt because you’ve been around. It seems like everybody’s family. But the NBA’s a business, so I totally understand that. Whatever happens, it’s going to happen. It’s in God’s hands and the GM’s hands. All I can do is be a player and represent whatever team I’m wearing their jersey. But I hope I don’t have to leave Chicago anytime soon. This is like my home.”
The defensive-minded big man who evolved into a much-improved back-to-the-basket scorer last season said he was excited about the Bulls’ potential in the upcoming campaign.
“It’s a deep team. It reminds me of the team we had the year we went to the Eastern Conference Finals. We were real deep. We had at least 10 or 11 guys that could really just go. I’m looking forward to it. Everybody on this team is mostly focused on winning championships, winning games and getting to that next level,” Gibson said. “I think we’re one of the best [teams in the Eastern Conference]. It’s hard to say we’re the best. You’ve got the Pacers still coming back; they got Rodney Stuckey. You’ve got Cleveland. The East is getting better. You’ve got Charlotte; they’re a sleeper, they’re good. D.C.’s coming back strong; they had good moves to build their chemistry. It’s really tough to say who’s better, who’s the best. It’s all about chemistry, all about guys who really want it and work hard together, focus to sacrifice for the team and I think that we have that. I really think that we have that. We’ve got Derrick playing well and coming back healthy. I think we have a legitimate shot.”
Added Gibson about his longtime teammate, former league MVP Derrick Rose: “Derrick’s been having a great summer. He sacrificed and stayed in Chicago all summer, to work on his game. He wants to let his game speak for itself. He’s staying away from the negative stuff. He’s working on his game every day. Every time I go in the gym, he’s there and I’m looking forward to him coming back strong,”
Choosing not to dwell on whether he would return to his sixth-man role or start at power forward — as was reported earlier in the offseason, though he subsequently denied making the statement — Gibson expressed excitement about the Bulls’ frontcourt depth.
“First, nobody ever told me that I was going to be a starter. They came to me and told me that they talked to the coaches and the coaches said that. I never said that at all and it kind of had me on the other side. I don’t really talk much, so when I hear things like that, it was a shock to me,” he said. “I haven’t had a chance to talk to Pau. I think it’s a great addition to our team, gives us more depth. I think that we’ll have more size up front. One thing about our bigs, I think that our bigs, Thibs can have so many different options. He can go small, he can go big, he can go quick. We have a lot of different lineups.
“It’s scary at times, when you think about the potential of the frontline and the depth. Our young guy from overseas [Mirotic], he’s going to be extremely good. We’ve got Joakim. We’re not going to have to put so many minutes on him because every year, late in the season, he’s always banged up.”
Although he’s clearly more concerned with how the current Bulls’ roster develops, Gibson took time to reflect on the organization’s pursuit of Carmelo Anthony, with whom he spent time with during the superstar scorer’s ballyhooed free-agency visit to Chicago earlier this month.
“When I was with Carmelo, we were just hanging out, really. It’s a mutual respect thing, being from New York. It’s respecting our games, talking about so many different stories. We weren’t really getting into the whole just coming here and do this, do that. No, we were just getting familiar with one another, just seeing how it happens. But it just didn’t go our way. It was all good talks, just talking about the future,” Gibson recounted. “At the end of the day, he has to worry about his family and worry about how he fits in, and we understand that. Like Joakim told him, ‘We want you here and we want to win a championship.’ But if it doesn’t come down to us, we understand all those things that come with it, your family and stuff. We totally understand. We don’t have hard feelings. We respect your game, we respect your devotion and that’s how it is.”
Gibson, who is no stranger to tragedy, having lost several close friends since entering the league, also spoke about the senseless death of his young nephew, who was stabbed to death in New York earlier this summer in a story that made headlines nationally.
“It’s tough. Every day is tough. I think about him every day. But it’s just one of those freak things that you never expect to happen to your family. I cut back on a lot of different things, like going out, hanging out here and there. Mostly, I’m just into myself, just trying to focus on basketball. Let basketball take me away from all the other things that come with it,” he said somberly. “Every time I talk to these kids about non-violence and stopping the violence, I mean it because I lost a lot of friends to the struggle, a lot of close family members and I understand what goes on in the neighborhoods. I go to my neighborhood almost every other day. So I understand, but it’s one of those things where you have to keep your family close and love them while they’re here.”
But surrounded by children with boundless energy at his camp, Gibson’s spirits were lifted, saying, “Yeah, they got me tired. I’m having a lot of fun with these kids, just enjoying myself. What more can I say? A bunch of little kids and they know how to have fun.”