The NBA’s annual moratorium prevents its teams from officially signing free agents and commenting publicly on them until Thursday, even though negotiations and verbal agreements have been flying fast and furious since late Friday.
That didn’t stop Timberwolves coach and President of Basketball Operations Tom Thibodeau from praising veteran power forward Taj Gibson, who struck a two-year, $28 million contract agreement with the team Sunday morning.
On the second-to-last day of last season, that is.
Back then, Thibodeau was asked before a game against Oklahoma City about a player he coached during his five seasons in Chicago.
By his effusive response, one could say Thibodeau is a fan of a rugged, consistent nine-year pro who turned 32 last week and who defends, does all the other little things and is a stabilizing locker-room presence.
“Taj can fit into any team in any role, and that’s the thing you really respect about him,” Thibodeau said then. “He not only embraces the role you ask him to play, he stars in it. If you ask him to start, he’ll start and play great. If you ask him to come off the bench, he has a great motor and can come off the bench. He’s one of those guys, it doesn’t take him five minutes to warm up.”
Thibodeau still must determine whether Gibson moves into the starting lineup alongside former Bulls teammate Jimmy Butler and newly acquired point guard Jeff Teague or if he comes off the bench behind Gorgui Dieng, last season’s starter at power forward.
Dieng arguably is better suited as a backup center on a second unit that still needs lots of help. But either way, Thibodeau apparently won’t have to worry about such a proven veteran as Gibson.
“You put him in, he brings energy every day,” Thibodeau said. “He walks into the gym with a bounce in his step. He’s not an energy taker, he’s an energy giver.”
Gibson’s $13.7 million salary for next season absorbed nearly all the $15 million in salary-cap room the Wolves had remaining. The Wolves turned their attention to a player Thibodeau knows so well after Denver closed in on signing Atlanta star Paul Millsap to a three-year, $90 million contract agreement the two sides finally reached Sunday night.
When Gibson and Teague officially sign on Thursday, the Wolves, until they make other expected moves, will have 10 players with guaranteed contracts and still will have five positions on the big-league roster to fill.
But they almost certainly aren’t done yet. They still could package the Thunder’s 2018 first-round pick acquired in Friday’s Ricky Rubio trade and veteran center Cole Aldrich to Brooklyn, Phoenix or another rebuilding team willing to absorb Aldrich’s $7 million contract in return for the draft pick.
They could then use that money to sign a needed three-point shooter and perimeter defender such as Indiana veteran C.J. Miles.
A 6-6 guard/forward, Miles played 76 games in his 12th pro season, averaging 10.7 points while shooting a career-best 41.3 percent from three-point range.
The Wolves also are expected to have a $4.3 million salary exception they can use to sign a player. After that, barring other financial moves, they would have to fill out their roster with players signed for league-minimum salaries.
They are still in need of shooters, defenders, veteran experience and probably a backup point guard in addition to third-year player Tyus Jones.
As of Sunday, though, the Wolves have added in Teague a quick point guard whom Thibodeau acquired because he’s clever in the pick-and-roll and can get into the lane and collapse opposing defenses.
He acquired Gibson for his grit, toughness and reliability.
“He’s a team-first guy all the way,” Thibodeau said in April. “He has had a terrific career, and he’s a two-way player. They’re hard to find in this league. He’s got great feet. He can guard multiple positions. He’s a huge asset on any team that he plays for and a great person on top of it.”