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Gibson has taken a big step forward this season

Miami Hev Chicago Bulls

Miami Heat v Chicago Bulls

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Updated: January 10, 2014 6:27AM



There’s a reason Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer might be expendable during the offseason — a 6-9, 225-pound reason.

The development of Taj Gibson hasn’t come overnight, but the fifth-year big man has arrived this season, and it’s just a matter of time before the Bulls will have no choice but to make him a starter.

Just don’t ask Gibson about it because it’s a non-issue to him.

‘‘One day I might be a starter, but it’s all about whatever helps the team win,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘You’re not remembered for individual stats. There are a few players who are remembered for individual stats, but the main thing is you are remembered for winning championships. You look at [former Bulls
role players] Randy Brown and Bill Wennington. Those guys are remembered for winning games, winning championships.

‘‘Here in Chicago, we’re all about winning games, winning championships, the way Michael Jordan and those guys did. I really want to win a championship, and it starts with helping your team in any way possible. That means not worrying about starting or anything like that. Just do whatever it takes.’’

It’s that attitude that has the Bulls feeling Gibson still isn’t close to his ceiling.

Gibson entered the season on a mission. The result has been improved numbers across the board, starting with a career-high 12.4 points per game.

In the Bulls’ loss Saturday to the Detroit Pistons, Gibson got his first start at small forward because Luol Deng was sidelined with an Achilles injury. He responded with team highs of 21 points and 10 rebounds.

The numbers were one thing for coach Tom Thibodeau. The fact Gibson performed like that playing out of position said more.

‘‘The thing is, he’s been terrific all year,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘We put him in a new position, and he goes in. Whatever you ask him to do, he does.’’

What he might be asked to do next offseason is to replace Boozer if the Bulls decide to seek amnesty on Boozer’s contract. Boozer is scheduled to make
$16.8 million in 2014-15; Gibson is scheduled to make
$8 million.

With Deng eligible for free agency next summer, the Bulls might elect to move Gibson and 2011 draft pick Nikola Mirotic into the forward spots alongside center Joakim Noah. Mirotic was named the most valuable player of the Spanish League last season and has been even more dominant so far this season.

As for Gibson, he has a lunchbox mentality the Bulls love.

‘‘Taj has been really
focused since the beginning of the year,’’ Noah said. ‘‘You can tell he’s put a lot of work in during the offseason. He’s stronger, more comfortable in the post. I’m happy for him because it’s well-deserved.’’

So what kicked in for Gibson after a somewhat disappointing 2012-13 season?
Assistant coach Mike Wilhelm worked with him almost every day, and Thibodeau challenged him.

‘‘Thibs told me he wanted me to have a great training camp, be real physical,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘Training camp was great, and preseason was even better. I got a lot of confidence in my jump shot. The main thing is having confidence because you’re in this NBA for a reason. Mike tells me that every day. Just keep pushing, and whatever minutes you get, play like your last.

‘‘But the main thing is what coach Thibs told me: ‘You’ve got to sacrifice a lot to get what you want. How bad do you want it?’ I told him I want it bad. He said: ‘Show me.’ I’ve been taking it from there.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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