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posted: 10/3/2012 12:01 AM

Gibson-Bulls situation one to watch

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  • If the Taj Gibson and the Bulls don't agree to a contract extension by Oct. 31, the 6-foot-9 power forward will become a restricted free agent next summer.

    If the Taj Gibson and the Bulls don't agree to a contract extension by Oct. 31, the 6-foot-9 power forward will become a restricted free agent next summer.
    Associated Press


By Mike McGraw

There can be a downside to making a smart draft pick.

The Bulls found that out this summer when defensive-minded center Omer Asik -- a player they wanted to keep -- received an offer he couldn't refuse and the Bulls refused to match.

After just two seasons with the Bulls, Asik jumped to the Houston Rockets, accepting a three-year offer worth $25 million. His salary in the third season will be a hefty $15 million.

Another player could face a similar scenario in 2013. Taj Gibson was chosen with the No. 26 pick in the 2009 draft and turned into a pleasant surprise.

The Bulls and Gibson have until Oct. 31 to agree to a contract extension, and if it doesn't happen the 6-foot-9 power forward will become a restricted free agent next summer.

There's no telling what sort of offer from another team might land on the table.

"I'm not even thinking about that," Gibson said Tuesday following the first practice of training camp. "I'm thinking about wearing a Bulls jersey as long as I can. That's the only thing I'm worried about."

Bulls general manager Gar Forman and Gibson's Chicago-based agent, Mark Bartelstein, have been thinking about an extension. It's tough to judge the likelihood of an agreement being reached before the end of the month.

It can be done, though. The Bulls signed center Joakim Noah to an extension in late October two years ago.

"Gar and I have been talking about it quite a bit," Bartelstein said. "If there's a deal that makes sense for everybody, then it will get done. If we can't come to a resolution, then obviously he'll go play his heart out and do the things he always does.

"It's hard to say. I think they'd certainly like to have him and he'd like to be here, so that's a good start trying to get a deal done. We just have to come to an agreement on the numbers."

One significant difference with Gibson is he was a first-round draft pick and is playing his fourth NBA season. That gives him "Bird Rights," which means the Bulls can exceed the salary cap to re-sign him. They can basically pay Gibson anything up to the maximum salary.

Asik was a second-round pick who had played in the league just two years. That made him what's known as an "early-Bird" free agent. Since the Bulls were over the cap, they could re-sign him for no more than $5 million and $5.2 million over the first two years of the new contract.

Houston was under the cap and therefore able to tack on the balloon payment. The Bulls could have matched the deal but would have owed a huge luxury-tax bill -- quite a price for a backup center.

Gibson's not planning to use Asik's example as a learning experience for himself.

"First off, I'm just happy for Omer," Gibson said. "He let his game speak for itself. He really didn't get into the, 'Oh, he wants to leave,' or anything like that. He just let his agent handle it and let things fall into place.

"Right now I can't focus on that. I'll focus on what I can take care of and that's basketball."

The Bulls have committed nearly $60 million to Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Noah for 2013-14. They could use the amnesty clause to lower that number, but it's tough to estimate a fair contract for Gibson.

His career numbers (7.9 points, 6.2 rebounds) aren't eye-popping, but he has been a valuable player on a good team.

If he was offered Asik money -- $25 million over three years -- it's probably safe to say the Bulls would gladly match. But what if it's more? Quality big men are at a premium in the NBA.

"At the end of the day, your value's always what someone's willing to pay you," Bartelstein said. "So I think there's no question he'd like to be a Bull. He loves it here. The fans have treated him great.

"This is obviously a really important contract for him. He's in the prime of his career. He just wants to make sure when it's time to sign something, there's no regrets. He doesn't look back and say, 'What if?' or anything like that."

The "what if?" question can work both ways. That's why important negotiations are in store for the Bulls during the next four weeks.

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