- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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DEERFIELD, Ill. -- After losing restricted free agent Omer Asik to the Houston Rockets over the offseason, the Chicago Bulls don't want to take the same risk with Taj Gibson, whose contract expires after this season.
The Bulls have always been confident they could retain Gibson, whose agent Mark Bartelstein told ESPNChicago.com in June that the two sides had already started discussing a new deal.
"I can only worry about basketball," Gibson said after practice Tuesday afternoon. "I can only worry about what I can take care of on the court. I'm listening to my agent Mark Bartelstein and I'll let (Bulls GM) Gar Forman and (Bartelstein) worry about that. Right now I'm just worried about getting better with my teammates, and so far it's been great."
Given what happened with Asik, Gibson really finds himself in the driver's seat. Yes, he wants to stay in Chicago, but he and Bartelstein can set a price and force the Bulls' hand. If Forman and the Bulls don't get to the price Bartelstein is asking for, Gibson can test the waters just like Asik did. If Gibson takes another step in his progression and hits the open market next summer he could be staring at a deal worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million from a team that needs a dependable big body on the floor. Gibson, one of the most popular players on the Bulls, tried to downplay the idea that he would be looking for greener pastures down the line.
"Right now I'm not even thinking about that," Gibson said. "I'm thinking about wearing the Bulls jersey for as long as I can. Right now that's the only thing I'm worried about."
There's no question Asik's huge $25 million deal had an impact on Gibson, though.
"I'm just happy for Omer," Gibson said. "He really just let his game speak for itself. He really didn't get into, 'Oh, he wants to leave,' or anything like that. He just let his agent handle it and let things fall into (place) but right now I can't focus on that. I can only focus on what I can take care of and that's basketball and worry about the things that are going (happening) on the basketball court. I can't worry about things with my agent, what Gar's going to say about money. I can't worry about those things right now."
What's happening on the basketball court right now for Gibson is his versatility is being used more than ever. With Asik out of the fold and veteran Nazr Mohammed replacing Asik, Gibson has started playing the center position for a Bulls team searching for more size.
"His strength I think is his versatility," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Of course, defensively he has the ability to guard, in some cases, all five positions and I think he's gotten more comfortable offensively playing the five and he's certainly very capable at the four and we may even take a look at him at the three. I think he's done extremely well; this is the first summer in the last two years in which he's been healthy. He's had a very productive summer. He's really added a lot to his game."
Gibson said he's focused even more on his offense. If he can become a 12-14 point a game scorer, he obviously becomes even more valuable to the Bulls or whichever team makes a run at him in the offseason.
"I just tried to get more consistent with my jump shot," Gibson said. "Worked a lot with Thibs right before USA camp, just trying to get more fluid with post work. Get more confidence, get stronger because we lost Omer in the off-season, try to just get more physical."
In the short-term, the extra physicality should pay off. Gibson's team-first attitude should get him even more minutes at multiple positions, especially center.
"I feel great about it," he said of his new role as a five. "I played it today against Joakim ... I had a great first day playing center. I look forward to playing it some more. As long as my teammates have confidence in me and we play solid defense I don't have a problem playing (center)."