Some players might feel pressure when a generous contract extension kicks in.
Taj Gibson confronted the issue by putting himself in a spot where he couldn't slack off -- right next to Derrick Rose.
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Gibson and Rose worked out together in Los Angeles for much of the summer. In the process, Gibson fed off Rose's determination to return from ACL surgery.
"We were in the weight room every day," Gibson said. "I didn't take any days off. Every day, we were on the track, in the weight room. Every day was a grind. Hot sun beaming in your face. We understand it's a big year. Guys are ready and motivated and I'm ready to go."
So far, Gibson's work is paying off. Through two preseason games, he's the Bulls' leading scorer (16.5 points) and rebounder (9.0). He's shooting 67 percent from the field and contributed 4 blocked shots.
On Saturday against Indiana, Gibson seemed confident shooting his outside jumper. He also has been an opportune finisher, slamming home dunks when teammates drive and dish.
"(Assistant coach) Mike Wilhelm's done a terrific job with him," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He's watched a lot of film. He's put a lot of work in, before and after practice. I think Taj feels good about where he is and how he's preparing for each day."
Gibson signed a four-year, $33 million extension last year on Oct. 31, just a few hours before the extension deadline would expire. The dollar figure showed the Bulls believe Gibson will become the starting power forward when Carlos Boozer moves on.
"My confidence is good because I put the work in," Gibson said. "I'm there early in the morning. I'm there late at night."
Gibson, a Brooklyn native, attended prep school in Southern California before playing at USC. He feels right at home in Los Angeles and sharing the gym with Rose was even more reason to spend the summer there. Gibson made it clear he saw it as a working vacation.
"I went to USC every now and then, but we were in Carson, (at) the Home Depot Center," Gibson said. "The way we were working out, when we got time off, the best thing to do is relax on the beach, clear your mind. Playing in these playoff games, playing against the Heat, playing against teams like Brooklyn, the Pacers -- you've got to clear your mind, because it's overwhelming at times.
"I would go to Manhattan (Beach). I'd go to Venice Beach and see Joakim (Noah) with the hippies. I'd go all over, because L.A. is my second home."
Gibson's best numbers (9.0 points, 7.5 rebounds) came during his rookie season, when he started 70 games. Once Boozer arrived a year later, Gibson had similar production, but played fewer minutes. That trend will likely change next season.
"I'm doing whatever it takes to help the team win," Gibson said. "Getting back to rebounding, I felt like my rebounding could have been better last year. I just want to have an injury-free year and play better.
"In the Central Division, everybody's a beast. You look at Detroit, the Pacers … the East is tough. I just want to do whatever I can to help this team, whatever minutes I get. It starts with the offensive rebounds. It starts with defense."
After beating Memphis 106-87 in St. Louis on Monday, the Bulls returned home briefly, then departed late Tuesday for Rio de Janeiro. They'll face Washington on Saturday in the first NBA game played in South America.
• The Bulls waived guard/forward Dahntay Jones on Tuesday, reducing their roster to 15 players.