The James Harden trade incites fears about retaining Taj Gibson

The Oklahoma City Thunder have traded super sixth man James Harden (along with Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward) to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round draft picks and a second-round pick.

In Thunder GM Sam Presti’s perfect world, this trade never would have happened. Had things gone Presti’s way, Harden would have signed an extension with Oklahoma City and joined Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to form the team’s core for years to come.

Unfortunately, Presti’s hand was forced by monetary constraints. Harden wanted a max deal and Presti — due the potential crippling luxury tax penalties — could not give it to him. The max deal would be around $60 million. Thunder management reportedly believed the highest they could go would be around $55 million.

That $5 million made all the difference. To both sides.

Said Presti: “We wanted to sign James to an extension, but at the end of the day, these situations have to work for all those involved. Our ownership group again showed their commitment to the organization with several significant offers. We were unable to reach a mutual agreement, and therefore executed a trade that capitalized on the opportunity to bring in a player of Kevin’s caliber, a young talent like Jeremy and draft picks, which will be important to our organizational goal of a sustainable team.”

In all likelihood, Harden will receive his max deal from the Rockets, although teaming with Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik won’t bring him the team success he enjoyed with the Thunder.

That’s simply life in the NBA. It’s business, as they say.

Which brings us to the subject of Taj Gibson. The Bulls have until Wednesday to work out an extension and thus prevent Gibson from becoming a restricted free agent next summer.

If the Asik situation taught us anything, it’s that restricted free agency can be deadly to a team that wants to retain its player. After all, the Bulls entered last summer with the firm stance that they would pay top dollar to retain Asik. Then the Rockets offered Asik upwards of $25 million for three years, which included a “poison pill” third-year salary of around $15 million.

That savvy move by the Rockets — who clearly wanted Asik badly — effectively cost the Bulls a valued player. It’s not a stretch to imagine the same thing happening with Gibson.

According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Talks between the Bulls and Mark Bartelstein, Gibson’s Chicago-based agent, continue. Sources said the roughly $8 million gap over four years isn’t atypical for this stage of negotiations.

The Bulls want to avoid having Gibson become a restricted free agent next summer should they fail to reach an extension, particularly since they were burned when Omer Asik reached that status. But they also have no plans to commit $10 million annually to Gibson, 27, when Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah all average north of that figure.

It’s a difficult situation. On the one hand, Gibson is a fantastic defensive player and the de facto leader of Chicago’s second unit. Yet his Player Efficiency Rating last season was 16.9, which ranked him 26th in the league among power forwards. That was just a hair above guys like Gustavo Ayon and Jason Thompson.

I’d be willing to bet you just thought: “Who are Gustavo Ayon and Jason Thompson?” To which I would have replied: “Exactly.”

The biggest worry about Gibson’s game is his offense.

According to Hoopdata, Gibson converted 65.7 percent of his shots at the rim last season, which is excellent. Unfortunately, a great many of those attempts came off uncontested dunks, layups and putbacks. Gibson doesn’t have many post moves and rarely creates his own shot.

Even more unfortunately is the fact that Gibson shot only 34 percent from 16-23 feet which — based on number of field goal attempts per game — is his second favorite location to shoot from.

A quick stat check also shows us that Gibson’s True Shooting Percentage of 52.2 percent ranks him 45th among the league’s power forwards.

Further, according to John Hollinger’s stats, Gibson ranks 26th in both Value Added (the estimated number of points a player adds to a team’s season total above what a replacement player would produce) and Estimated Wins Added (the estimated number of wins a player adds to a team’s season total above what a replacement player would produce).

Mind you, I’m not saying any of this to undersell Gibson or understate his value to the Bulls.

However, some perspective may be necessary. Gibson is a very popular player among experts and Bulls fans. And rightfully so. But while we’re extolling his virtues — which include stellar defense, consistent effort and being a fantastic teammate — it’s also worth looking at his shortcomings. Especially considering that, at 27 years old, Gibson’s game is unlikely to change greatly going forward. In other words, people expecting him to suddenly become a much stronger offensive player are likely to be disappointed.

Which may be an important factor when estimating his dollar value worth to the Bulls.

And that’s what it’s all going to come down to in the end. Like the Thunder, the Bulls will have to make a decision regarding what Gibson is worth based on a) what they have to offer under the current salary cap and luxury tax situation and b) what Gibson is worth relative to other players around the league.

As much extending or re-signing Gibson seems like a no-brainer, it may not be that simple. The Bulls learned this with Asik last summer. The Thunder just learned that with the James Harden situation.

And it could happen again with Taj.

One Response to The James Harden trade incites fears about retaining Taj Gibson

  1. thegreatIgnarus@gmail.com'
    Ignarus October 30, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    You need some way of cramming Boozer’s offense and Taj Gibson’s defense into one body. Just not Boozer’s body, cuz then you can’t amnesty him and he’s going to be injured a lot.

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