Taj Gibson is no stranger to playing the role of good soldier.
Want the 31-year-old veteran to go from long-time reserve turned starter back to reserve? No problem. Need him to play center even though he’s a 6-foot-9 forward? Just tell him which large body to bang around.
Friday, however, the Bulls big man found himself in a tight spot.
Yes, he admittedly agreed that last year’s roster was broken from a chemistry standpoint, but it just so happened that two of the reasons it was broken had to do with former teammates Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose.
Oh by the way, two players Gibson came up with and two players he considers good friends.
“I don’t really know what to say about that,’’ Gibson said, when asked if the housecleaning was necessary if this franchise wants to return to the playoffs. “Those guys are family. At the end of the day, it’s a business. I’m happy they’re all where they want to be. And I’m happy with how their careers are moving on. But right now, I just have to focus on my team and what’s ahead of us.
“I’m still here. I have to focus on the guys who are here. Jimmy [Butler] is still here. All positive vibes so far in training camp so I can’t dwell on previous years. I can only just take the good from what I had with those guys. It was a great time. Now we’re moving forward. They’re with the Knicks. Pau [Gasol] is with the Spurs. And I’m here.’’
That he is.
And coach Fred Hoiberg is still trying to figure out in what capacity.
Gibson’s importance is not a question as training camp goes on. What has to be decided is Gibson more important to a starting group of Dwyane Wade, Butler, Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez or to a reserve group full of youth?
Considering the Bulls need outside shooting to go along with those four starters there has been growing momentum that Nikola Mirotic would be better served to start at the four, moving Gibson back to the bench.
What makes that decision easier for Hoiberg is Gibson.
He’s a team-first player. Hoiberg didn’t have that luxury last season, as Gasol made it clear that he wanted to be on the floor at crunch-time, and Noah openly didn’t like the way his benching was handled until his season ended with a shoulder injury.
“Taj has been great,’’ Hoiberg said. “He’s one of those guys that goes out and does everything that you ask of him. He’s in great spirits, he’s a positive force. Always trying to do what you tell him to do. And again, when you have a veteran guy that’s been around the league as long as he has, played a great role especially in his position, then he can teach guys like Bobby [Portis] and Cris [Felicio] and also Paul Zipser. They see your vets working hard, and Taj is one of the hardest workers on this team and he always does what’s asked of him.’’
Just a week into camp, nothing has been asked of him yet. At least as far as his defined role of starter or reserve.
But when Hoiberg does make that decision official, Gibson sounded like a player that will be ready either way.
“The vibe now is a bunch of veterans that want to win and then you’ve got a lot of young guys who want to prove themselves, but they want to win also,’’ Gibson said. “It’s all going hand in hand.’’