The Chicago Bulls thought long and hard before agreeing (via the Associated Press) to a four-year, $38 million contract extension with Taj Gibson. Their inevitable decision to eventually amnesty Carlos Boozer won’t be nearly as difficult.
When Gibson signed his extension with the Bulls just before the October 31 deadline, he secured his future by writing his name on the dotted line.
At the same time, he put the writing on the wall for Carlos Boozer.
Boozer, long the target of Bulls fans’ ire, isn’t a bad player by any stretch. In fact, he’s been an effective scorer and rebounder for a decade. But his career averages of 17 points and 9.9 rebounds aren’t the problem.
It’s about the money.
To get the clearest picture of exactly why the Bulls must inevitably choose Gibson over Boozer, we need to look at a couple of distinct areas.
Offensively, Carlos Boozer should be an exceptionally efficient scorer. He has shot better than 50 percent from the field in nine out of his 10 previous NBA seasons, and last year, he ranked among the NBA elite from his pet three-to-nine-foot distance with a 53 percent field-goal percentage.
But Boozer’s declining athleticism and apparent distaste for contact have resulted in a steadily sinking rate of free-throw attempts that bottomed out last year, when he took just 2.1 foul shots per game.
Looking forward, Boozer’s high volume of tough shots in the lane and his inability to get to the line point to a precipitous drop in his overall offensive efficiency.
In contrast, Taj Gibson’s offensive game isn’t nearly as polished as Boozer’s is. But he’s murder in transition and the complete opposite of Boozer when it comes to his feelings on drawing contact.
So, unlike Boozer, Gibson’s not much of a shooter, but he drew fouls at a much higher rate. That makes him a viable offensive player with the potential to get better.
But it’s on the defensive end where Gibson really distinguishes himself from Boozer.
Gibson is an elite defender. There’s no other way to say it. According to Synergy (subscription required), he was among the NBA’s top 15 percent in terms of overall defensive efficiency. In isolation situations, he was in the top 10.
Stats aside, Gibson is a ferocious help defender who is also agile enough to stay in front of guards when switching on a pick-and-roll. He competes relentlessly on the boards and has been an extremely effective shot-blocker. Despite averaging just 23.2 minutes per game in his career, he’s swatted away an average of at least one shot per game.
Also, his weakside blocks are consistently awesome (note that it’s Boozer who Evan Turner blows by in the highlight).
Unlike Gibson, Boozer is a decidedly below-average defensive player, who Synergy ranks in the NBA’s bottom third.
All of those numbers could be criticized as existing in a vacuum, though. Unfortunately for Boozer, the context-dependent statistics value Gibson even more highly.
That’s a mind-blowing difference, and it shows just how valuable Gibson is to the defense-first Bulls.
The Pocketbook Hit
Speaking of value, Boozer has virtually none from a financial standpoint.
He’s owed $15 million this year and next, but then his salary grows to $17 million in 2014-15. That’s a huge amount of money for a guy whose backup—Gibson—is arguably a better overall player.
Now that Gibson has signed his extension, he’ll cost the Bulls $2 million this season and a reasonable average salary of $9.5 million for the next four years. In other words, the Bulls are committed to paying Boozer—who turns 31 this month—about $10 million more in the next three seasons than they’ll pay Gibson—who’s 27—for the next five.
Keeping both players would mean the Bulls were paying at least $25 million for two players who play the same position. It doesn’t take a financial analyst to realize that the Bulls would be crazy to do that.
From a broader perspective, the Bulls already have the NBA’s sixth-highest payroll. By extending Gibson, Chicago has now committed about $75 million in total salary next season (if it exercises its team option on Richard Hamilton), which will put it into the luxury tax. That means its hands will be tied for the foreseeable future, which will keep the Bulls out of any meaningful free-agent pursuits.
Unless the Bulls save themselves about $47 million by amnestying Carlos Boozer.
The Only Conclusion
When you compare Gibson and Boozer’s on-court worth, it’s hard to say one is vastly superior to the other right now. But even the staunchest Boozer defenders—if those even exist—have to concede that Gibson is probably a little more valuable this year, and definitely more valuable as the players age over the next few seasons.
And the financial components weigh even more heavily in favor of Gibson.
For the future of the Chicago Bulls, there’s only one conclusion: They’ve got to amnesty Carlos Boozer.