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updated: 11/1/2012 11:31 PM

What does Taj Gibson's deal mean for future of Bulls?

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  • Taj Gibson earned his four-year contract extension, says Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.

      Taj Gibson earned his four-year contract extension, says Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
    Associated Press

 
 

The Bulls were in a celebratory mood Wednesday night, and just partly because of the season-opening victory over Sacramento.

Taj Gibson's teammates toasted the announcement of his four-year contract extension, worth up to $38 million with incentives. He agreed to the deal less than an hour before the NBA's deadline for such extensions.

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Carlos Boozer expressed happiness. Joakim Noah's reaction needs audio to be fully appreciated. Just keep in mind, Noah is the one who initiated the Tajiwoo nickname.

"He's earned it," coach Tom Thibodeau said of Gibson on Thursday at the Berto Center. "I think it's important to reward people who work hard and perform well.

"He's one of those guys who has gotten better every year. He gets here early, stays late. So I'm happy for him."

So Gibson is locked up through 2017 and will not go through restricted free agency next summer.

But what does this move mean for the future of the Bulls? Specifically, will Boozer be gone after this year?

Not necessarily, but here are some issues to keep in mind:

•When Gibson's extension kicks in for the 2013-14 season, it gives the Bulls payroll commitments of $77.2 million for nine players, if they pick up a $5 million option for Richard Hamilton (not a given).

•This season the NBA's luxury tax kicks in when a team's payroll exceeds $70.3 million. That figure should increase, but probably not by much.

•Luxury-tax penalties become more severe in 2013-14. A team that is between $5 million and $10 million above the threshold will pay $1.75 in tax for every dollar above the mark. The current rate is dollar for dollar.

•The Bulls are anticipating the future arrival of 2011 draft pick Nikola Mirotic, a 6-foot-10 forward with perimeter skills and a two-time winner of the Euroleague's Rising Star Award. But a realistic estimate for Mirotic joining the Bulls is the summer of 2014.

The Bulls have tough choices to make, because it would be very expensive to keep this group together for another season.

Fill out the roster with three minimum-salary players and the Bulls still could be facing a tax bill of around $12 million or more.

Can they afford it? Of course, but that's another column.

They could decline Hamilton's option for 2013-14, but then who plays shooting guard? Newcomer Marco Belinelli has shown no signs of winning the job.

One option is playing Kirk Hinrich at two guard with Derrick Rose at the point. Maybe they could bring back Kyle Korver at a lower price when his contract expires.

Another conceivable strategy is to try to trade Luol Deng. His will be the first of the Bulls' large contracts to expire, in 2014. There are ways to trade players and take on less salary in return. The question is whether there will be any takers.

NBA teams are allowed to use the amnesty provision once during the life span of the new collective-bargaining agreement. By amnestying a player, the team still must pay his salary, but it doesn't count toward the salary cap or luxury tax. Meanwhile, the player is released.

There appears to be no chance the Bulls will take on Boozer's 2014-15 salary of $16.8 million. As Wednesday's victory over the Kings demonstrated, though, Boozer would be a valuable player to keep on the roster next season.

For now the Bulls have reason to celebrate a fresh contract for a promising young player, especially after watching center Omer Asik walk away as a restricted free agent this summer.

Gibson credited his agent, Mark Bartelstein, for convincing him to accept the Bulls' offer late Wednesday.

"I asked him, 'What do you think? Don't give me the bull(crud). Be real with me,' and he was real with me," Gibson recounted.

"He said, 'I don't want you to turn this down. I know we can probably get more this summer, but it's all about if you're happy or not. I want you to take this. It's too much of a risk to go out there and you never know what could happen.'

"You do want to see what else is out there, but you don't want to be in a hellhole somewhere, chasing the bucks. This is a great team here."

Success comes at a price, though, and the Bulls will have to pay eventually.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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