Jan 2, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau reacts during the first half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Thibodeau could be losing one of his loyalists this offseason.
Ian Begley of SportsNet New York reported this week that multiple teams have expressed interest in New York Knicks big Taj Gibson. While Gibson remains under contract with the Knicks, his deal is fully non-guaranteed for next year. Begley notes that Gibson could be waived to create room for the Knicks’ official acquisition of guard Jalen Brunson.
Gibson, who recently turned 37, isn’t especially productive any more. He averaged just 4.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in 52 appearances for the Knicks last season. But Gibson is a universally respected veteran who can still provide some blue-collar minutes off the bench. Gibson is also very close with the Knicks coach Thibodeau, having played for Thibodeau during all three of Thibodeau’s head coaching stints (in Chicago, Minnesota, and now in New York).
But the Knicks are fully loaded in the frontcourt for next year after retaining Mitchell Robinson and Jericho Sims as well as reeling in Isaiah Hartenstein in free agency. That could leave Gibson as the one stuck without a paddle (though he may still have another ally in New York beyond Thibodeau).
The New York Knicks continue to run into trouble with referees, and tensions boiled over early during Thursday night’s game.
The Knicks struggled early against the Chicago Bulls, and the situation was exacerbated with what Knicks players clearly saw as unfavorable officiating. Reserve center Taj Gibson was called for illegal screens on back-to-back offensive possessions, and the veteran completely lost his composure after the second one.
Gibson angrily yelled and gestured at the officials, and was quickly ejected after picking up a pair of technical fouls.
The Knicks were already playing shorthanded with Nerlens Noel out, so Gibson’s ejection was a significant blow. He simply has to keep his composure better than that. On the other hand, the second technical was a very quick trigger, and there’s a good argument that the officials overreacted in this instance.
With NBA free agency so close, it’s no secret where most of the attention will fall. The destinations of the likes of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker, and Klay Thompson will potentially dictate where the league’s centers of power are for the next half a decade, if not longer.
However, there are many more free agents beyond just the big names. A number of important role players are hitting the market this offseason. They won’t be as exciting as some of their counterparts, but as the Toronto Raptors would tell you, you can’t win an NBA title without some valuable role players — the likes of which will be out there this summer.
Here are 10 under-the-radar NBA free agents who could end up having a big impact on the teams they sign with.
10. Taj Gibson
The 34-year-old forward is no longer going to be a top frontline player for any teams, but Gibson was one of the better players on the Timberwolves over the last two tumultuous years. Gibson consistently averaged a double-digit point total, knows the game well, and is an intelligent player to have around. It’s possible Gibson could return to the Timberwolves in a mentor role, but he’d be a solid second unit player on a contender.
9. JaVale McGee
Yes, really. McGee had the best season of his career last season thanks to the extended minutes the Los Angeles Lakers ended up giving him. Everyone knows that McGee is a useful but never great center at this stage of his career, but as that stint with the Lakers proved, he can contribute when given the chance. That goes for contenders, too — after all, McGee was a valuable reserve for the Golden State Warriors teams that won back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017.
8. Terrence Ross
Teams in need of bench scoring could do far worse than Ross, who shot over 38 percent from three-point range last season for the Orlando Magic. He averaged 15 points per game in just 26 minutes per night, and he’s capable of catching fire and taking control of an offense for minutes at a time. Ross’ overall game is limited, and when he’s not scoring, there’s not a lot else to him, but when he is, he’s hard to stop. There’s huge value in that.
7. Garrett Temple
Temple doesn’t have any single great aspect to his game, but the versatile guard also doesn’t have any obvious weaknesses, either. He can score, but not at a high level. He can pass, but he’s not dazzling. He’s a good, but not elite defender. None of it matters, because when you put all those factors together, you have a very useful reserve player who can give you good minutes on a nightly basis — the exact sort of player a lot of contenders would love to have.
6. Ed Davis
Davis has always been a favorite of contending teams — the Portland Trail Blazers got a lot of mileage out of him. It’s largely down to his rebounding prowess, which very much counts as his specialty. He’s not a starter, and his game is very limited, especially in today’s NBA. But even the best shooting teams need someone who can come in off the bench, grab some boards, bang around in the post, and contribute some good minutes. That’s Davis in a nutshell.
5. Trevor Ariza
If there’s any doubt as to how important Ariza can be to even a good team, the Houston Rockets definitely missed him this season. He may be a classic three-and-D wing player, but Khris Middleton is about to get a lot of money for doing the same thing, so Ariza’s value should not be underestimated. He was a poor fit on non-contenders last year, and the best spot for him would be on a team that expects to be in the hunt for an NBA title. He could be hugely vital there. Just ask the Rockets.
4. Dewayne Dedmon
Dedmon is never going to win any awards, but centers who can shoot from the perimeter have never been more important in the NBA. Dedmon’s newfound skill made him a 38.2 percent three-point shooter last year, while simultaneously adding 7.5 rebounds per game. He’s a solid defender and, perhaps even more importantly, he’s now capable of spacing the floor. There are some pretty good teams he could be a starter on. He’ll be a popular name this summer for that reason.
3. Seth Curry
Steph’s little brother put himself more on the map with a strong postseason with Portland, so he might not be quite as under-the-radar as he once was. Unlike his older brother, Curry isn’t much of a playmaker, and he won’t really be an impactful defender, but when you can shoot 45 percent from three-point range, there is a prominent spot for you in the NBA. Curry profiles best as a bench scorer who can come into games, knock down threes, and give defenses a lot to think about. If used properly, he will become an enormously valuable player.
2. Kevon Looney
Much will be written about the futures of Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant this summer, but the Warriors will absolutely miss Looney if he departs, too. He worked himself into a key player for the team, typically off the bench, with scoring and rebounding ability. He was so important to their playoff run that he may have priced himself out of a return. The attention will primarily lie with his more high-profile teammates, but Looney may actually be in line for a larger role with a different team this summer.
1. Danny Green
Kawhi Leonard isn’t the only free agent the Raptors are faced with losing this year. There is, after all, a reason that Green has been an important part of two NBA champions. He had his best three-point shooting season of his career with Toronto last season and heated up just in time to play a significant role in the NBA Finals. He doesn’t actually do much else on offense other than shoot, but it’s easy to ignore those limitations when he shoots as well as he does. He’s regarded as a good teammate and a quality glue guy, and while his eventual signing won’t steal the headlines, it could make a huge impact on whoever he lands with.
Minnesota Timberwolves forward Taj Gibson has known Jimmy Butler for a very long time, and even he was surprised by his teammate’s trade demand.
Gibson and Butler are close, having first played together in 2011 with the Chicago Bulls and eventually reuniting on the Timberwolves. Gibson admitted that he understood the NBA is a business, but was admittedly taken aback by Butler’s trade demand.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to look at it from a player’s standpoint and a business standpoint,” Gibson told ESPN’s Nick Friedell on Friday. “He’s trying to do what he got to do, but everybody’s calling him. It’s more of a [situation where] I’ve got to go see him kind of thing. But I worked out with him all summer, so when I said what I meant, it was like a right hook. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t know. I thought — it looked like from everything things were going good. But sometimes it’s a money aspect, and fans and different players got to understand that. I understand that with being in the league for so many years, but got to try to just see what we can do.”
Butler is absent from Timberwolves camp as the team seeks a trade, though they may have to ease up on their demands a bit to do it. However this ends, it doesn’t sound like Butler’s teammates knew it was coming.
Tyronn Lue’s leave of absence from the Cleveland Cavaliers has created a new discussion about the physical and mental strain on NBA head coaches, and Minnesota Timberwolves big man Taj Gibson is among those concerned.
Gibson was asked by Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune on Tuesday if he ever worries about the health of Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau, who is widely known as one of the most intense figures in the game today.
“I worry about Thibs. I worry about Thibs all the time,” he replied. “I worry about him having a stroke or something crazy because he’s so into the game.”
Gibson’s comments come in the wake of Lue stepping away from the Cavs to address his health. Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford (earlier this season) and Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr (in the 2015-16 season and the 2017 playoffs) have also taken notable leaves of absence for medical reasons.
For the 60-year-old Thibodeau, who has coached Gibson for six of his seven career seasons as a head coach in both Minnesota and Chicago, his trademark ferocity can definitely get the better of him sometimes. Thibodeau did benefit from taking the entire 2015-16 season off between jobs, but his fiery coaching style may indeed lead to greater concerns about his overall well-being.
Sure, it’s fun to observe how superstar talent adjusts to a new habitat — Chris Paul finding his wings in Houston, Jimmy Butler howling at the moon in Minnesota, and Kyrie Irving projecting Force ghosts in Boston. But often times, the more rewarding exercise is pinpointing the summer acquisitions who have given their new teams the best bang for their buck in spite of little fanfare and infrequent appearances on World Wide Wob’s Twitter feed. Here are 10 players who have best exemplified that latter category so far this year.
*Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com*
Victor Oladipo, SG, Indiana Pacers
If you love somebody, set them free from Russell Westbrook. That’s exactly what Oklahoma City Thunder GM Sam Presti did this offseason in dealing Oladipo to the Indiana Pacers as part of the Paul George trade, and the fifth-year guard has been on a killing spree ever since. Oladipo’s 24-5-4 averages this season are close to Miami Heat-era Dwyane Wade-type production out of the 2 spot. His 42.5 percent shooting from deep is a wonder of the modern world. Oladipo has become Indiana’s starter, finisher, and Messiah all wrapped up in one. An All-Star nod this February is probably a realistic expectation, which is saying something considering how much Indiana was questioned when they made the trade.
Enes Kanter, C, New York Knicks
While we’re on the topic of Oklahoma City refugees, here is another one who is having himself a nice little season. In between becoming The Empire State’s most beloved enforcer, Kanter is producing career-highs in rebounds (10.1) and assists per game (1.7) while also bumping up his shooting efficiency to a DeAndre Jordan-esque 60.2 percent. His defense isn’t just Shaqtin’ A Fool fodder anymore either, as Kanter is finally in positive territory in defensive box score plus-minus for the first time in seven NBA seasons. A fitting blue-collar bopper alongside the unicorn superstardom of Kristaps Porzingis in the Knicks frontcourt, Kanter is the sidekick that America needs right now.
In this year’s NBA Finals, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant — three all-timers who have claimed seven of the last nine MVP awards — operated at the height of their powers. But it was an under-the-radar Warriors forward who finished with by far the best plus-minus of any player in the series: Andre Iguodala.
Iguodala finished the series +60, 20 points better than the next-most impactful player (Draymond Green was +40). And the 33-year-old Iguodala saved his best performance for last, playing 38 minutes, scoring 20 points, notching a +18, knocking down two vital threes, and playing excellent defense on James in the decisive Game 5.
Iguodala played so well that the Warriors were able to employ small-ball for most of the game, as JaVale McGee didn’t see the court and Zaza Pachulia played only 10 minutes.
Golden State acquired Iguodala in the 2013 offseason in a sign-and-trade deal involving the Nuggets and Jazz. The next year, the Dubs signed Shaun Livingston. And in the 2016 offseason, they inked three veteran big men (McGee, Pachulia, and David West) to bargain-basement deals. The three combined to make $5.7 million — nearly $2 million less than Channing Frye.
Role players don’t draw much attention when they sign with a new squad, but these players often prove to be difference-makers — even on the most talented teams.
Here are 10 under-the-radar free agents to keep an eye on this offseason.
10. Ersan Ilyasova
Ilyasova is a 10-year veteran who has bounced around after spending his first seven NBA campaigns with Milwaukee. He’s suited up for five teams in the past two years, but he’s still a valuable piece. Most recently he was dealt from the Sixers to the Hawks in exchange for Tiago Splitter and a second-round pick and potential pick-swap.
This season he averaged 10.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in 24.3 minutes per game for Atlanta. It wasn’t his best year, but he did notch 31 points in a January game, and throughout his career he’s consistently put up double-digit points and provided a punch on the offensive end.
The Turkish big man, a second-round pick in 2005, presents potential suitors with an interesting skill set. He can stretch the floor; he’s a career 35 percent three-point shooter. He’s a good pick-and-pop guy and he runs the floor.
Ilyasova, 6-foot-10 and 30 years old, lacks lateral athleticism, so he struggles to keep up with guards on switches, but he plays hard on defense and is a good rebounder. He could be a key bench guy for a contender.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are doing their best to improve their playoff hopes.
According to The Vertical’s Shams Charania, the Thunder are working on a trade to acquire Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott from the Chicago Bulls. Charania says the Thunder will send Cameron Payne, Joffrey Lauvergne and Anthony Morrow to the Bulls for Gibson, McDermott and a second-round pick.
Sources: OKC and Chicago are nearing agreement on a trade to send package centered on Cameron Payne for Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson.
Gibson is a veteran forward averaging 11.6 points and 7 rebounds per game. He should give the Thunder some extra depth in the frontcourt, particularly with Enes Kanter out. McDermott’s specialty is his three-point shooting. He’s making 44.5 percent of his field goals and 37.3 of his threes this season. Both players should help OKC, while the Thunder aren’t losing a ton.
Payne was the No. 14 overall pick by OKC in 2015 and is a bench player. Lauvergne was a 2013 draft pick who was stashed in Europe but is now in his third NBA season. The center has shown some promise in limited minutes, as he’s averaging 5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Morrow is another bench player whom the Thunder shouldn’t miss too much.