During the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, the Chicago Bulls boasted two formidable frontcourt weapons off the bench in Omer Asik and Taj Gibson. Both raised eyebrows with their defensive prowess and ability to finish near the rim, resulting in much speculation that either could serve as starters on other teams in the league.
Because of their heightened value, the Bulls were forced to make a decision during this past offseason. Asik was a restricted free agent and the Houston Rockets reached an agreement with him on a 3-year, $25.1 million deal.
The Bulls then had to decide whether they should match Houston's offer. In the end, they simply couldn't justify paying their backup center that much money.
One integral reason why they couldn't make this justification centered upon their intent to give Gibson a long-term extension. Chicago ultimately had to face the fact that they couldn't keep both Asik and Gibson, and they thus let Asik walk away while giving Gibson a 4-year, $38 million extension at the season's outset.
At the time of these decisions, it appeared the Bulls were making reasonable choices, but now there is plenty of room to question their maneuvers. Quite frankly, based on what has transpired in the season's opening stages, it's evident that the Bulls would have been wise to retain Asik and trade Gibson prior to the season.
This may strike fans rather strangely, especially because Gibson has been a fan-favorite, largely because of his highlight-reel dunks. Asik, on the other hand, has been viewed as a slow big man who can't catch.
But this is where we can't mistake Gibson's flashiness and overlook Asik's subtle productivity. In Asik's tenure in Chicago, he may not have always been pretty to watch, but he developed a reputation as one of the better defensive centers in the game.
And he's only gotten better with the Rockets.
Asik is currently averaging 10.9 points per game (on .509 field goal percentage), 11.8 rebounds per game and 1.2 blocks per game. His rebounding output ranks third in the league, tied with Lakers center Dwight Howard and over a whole rebound ahead of current Bull Joakim Noah.
What has been most surprising about Asik's development has been his offensive improvements. While he'll still likely never be a dominant offensive weapon, he has shown growth in his finesse around the rim and his double-digit scoring average is evidence of this.
What's more, Asik's influence on a game often doesn't show up on the stat sheet. His long arms and prowess around the rim alter shots from opponents on a consistent basis. His presence was a vital element to Chicago's defensive success the past couple seasons, and his overall production certainly cannot be replaced by anyone.
Now, I will say that the Bulls choice to retain Gibson over Asik is not catastrophic. Gibson is a quality player who is in his prime. He's by no means going to hurt the Bulls, but the Bulls simply would've been wiser to bid farewell to Gibson and keep Asik.
Gibson's inconsistent start to the 2012-13 season illustrates this. He's averaging just 6.2 PPG (with a disappointing .448 FG%), 4.4 RPG and 1.0 BLKPG. Yes, he's only playing 19.1 minutes per outing, but he's currently having the worst statistical season of his career. There's room to wonder if Gibson has reached his ceiling and isn't going to progress much further.
Let's return to this past offseason and assume that the Bulls had signed Asik, thus creating some looming questions regarding Gibson's future. This would have sparked some trade possibilities, as other teams would have been interested in inheriting Gibson. Gibson's extension doesn't kick in until next season, so the Bulls could've traded him prior to the season and landed a stellar piece (or two) in return (similar to what the Oklahoma City Thunder did with James Harden).
The truth is that the Bulls could've potentially landed a proven two-guard in return for Gibson. His stock was high over the summer and teams would have come knocking.
Overall, the Bulls could have constructed an even more promising future by re-signing Asik and trading Gibson. Not only would Asik's production surpass that of Gibson's, but they also could have added another potent threat to their lineup in whatever they could have received for Gibson.
All of this analysis is made further pressing by Asik's performance on Christmas day against the Bulls, when he posted 20 points and 18 rebounds. But this article is not an overreaction to that, because Asik's been playing at a high level all season. He could still be a core contributor to the Bulls, and he and Noah could even share the floor at times (with Noah playing the four position).
No matter what your opinion is on the matter, it's undeniable that this is water under the bridge. Asik is gone and there's no getting him back. Gibson remains and the Bulls can only hope he further develops.
But based on what the first couple months of the season have revealed, there's some concern regarding the decisions the Bulls made about the two men who used to anchor the "Bench Mob's" frontcourt. One player should still be playing in the Windy City, while the other seems like he would have been best utilized as trade bait a couple months ago.
*Stats used in this article were as of December 27, 2012.