Chicago Bulls much maligned power forward, Carlos Boozer, is off to a hot start averaging around 18 points and 8 boards per game early on. He’s helping to carry the offensive load as the team struggles for wins and Derrick Rose works to regain his MVP form. But, with just this year and one more remaining on his $75 million, 5 year deal, the talk of applying the amnesty provision – a team can waive one player and remove him from the salary cap – on his contract hasn’t quite subsided. The Bulls have no viable second scorer behind Rose though; shedding Boozer and his hefty contract may seem more appealing than it really is. There is no shaking the feeling that his minutes are somewhat empty and, with his porous defense only getting worse, Carlos will continually end up on the bench at crucial times of the game. While his numbers early in the 2013-14 season are comparable to seasons past, what’s different is the play of the man standing in his shadows. If Boozer is entering his final season in Chicago, at least fans know a younger, more athletic big man is ready to take his place.
Taj Gibson enters his fifth season in the NBA, all with the Bulls, and is poised to take the next step in his professional basketball career. Gibson’s career averages – 8 points and 6 rebounds per game – are unremarkable when stood up next to Boozer’s career 17 points and 10 rebound per game numbers. But Taj’s remarkable pre-season brought forth his true potential as a capable starting power forward. “You could make a case that Taj has been our best player in camp.” said coach Thibodeau who has clearly seen a difference from last season to the new one. ‘‘[Last season] wasn’t up to his standards. He’s playing with a lot of confidence now.’’ A strong pre-season coupled with his career 12.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per 36 minutes proves, with more playing time, Taj will make his presence felt on the hardwood. In Boozer, Chicago has a back-to-the-basket scoring big man that its front office personnel craves. Carlos’ buckets come with a price though. His inability to finish strong at the rim – dunk, please! – gives opponents more transition basket opportunities and takes key points off the Bulls side of the scoreboard. He and Rose clearly don’t play well together in the way Tony Parker and Tim Duncan do. Last season – sans Rose – Carlos Boozer looked more comfortable than he ever has in Chicago. He played pick-and-pop well off Kirk Hinrich, Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli and his field goal attempts per game were the highest they’ve been since his 2007-08 season with his former team, the Jazz. Carlos Boozer is an all-star caliber player despite his shortcomings on the defensive side of the ball and deteriorating jumping ability. But he and Derrick Rose don’t fit the way John Paxson and Gar Forman intended them to. The 6’9”, 225 pound Taj Gibson will mesh with Rose in a way Boozer just can’t.
Taj Gibson will never be a 20 point per game scorer. And he likely will never be an all-star. But his defensive prowess, ability to rebound in traffic and short-range jumper make him a perfect fit alongside Noah in the starting lineup and running with Rose on the break. The former MVP needs to play near the rim, despite his purportedly improved jump shot. With Boozer roaming the paint, Rose has yet another big to work around. Taj’s quickness allows him to set picks without slowing down the play and his leaping ability gets him easy dunks when rolling to the basket. His shot isn’t as pretty as Boozer’s high arcing jumper but it is good enough to get him 12 to 14 points per game given enough impactful minutes. And, even with his below average PER (Player Efficiency Rating), he fits with the team in a way the incumbent starter at his position does not. GarPax may choose to let Carlos Boozer play out the rest of his deal. A trade, given his contract situation, is out of the question. If Boozer is amnestied though, the front office will have nearly $17 million in additional cap space to make significant additions to the roster. A roster that, while talented, remains a piece or two away from being considered true championship material instead of second best to a star-studded Miami Heat squad.
Niral Patel ~ SecCitySportsReport@gmail.com