The move reunites Gibson with the head coach that shepherded his rise as an NBA player. Gibson played for five years for Thibodeau from 2010 to 2015, emerging as one of the league’s best defensive big men off the bench and an avatar for Thibodeau’s toughness. Now, Thibodeau hopes that he and Jimmy Butler — another Thibodeau loyalist from the Chicago days — can bring that patented tenacity to a young Wolves core.
The 32-year-old Gibson was traded from Chicago to Oklahoma City last trade deadline, where he became a spot starter for Russell Westbrook’s crew. He averaged 10.8 points and 6.2 rebounds in 25.5 minutes per game split between the two spots. He could start at power forward or play behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng.
Gibson is still a quality player
Though he’s getting up there in age, Gibson is a coach’s dream. He’s a terrific defender that is quick enough to guard most power forwards, tough enough to bang with bulky centers, and long enough to protect the rim. He gets the job done no matter how many minutes he plays. The Bulls and Thunder both wanted young players to play over him — Nikola Mirotic, Domantas Sabonis — but Gibson beat both out to secure the lion’s share of the power forward minutes.
Gibson is a throwback player without three-point range, but he is a proficient mid-range shooter and can punish smaller players in the post with tough moves. He’s a much better defensive player than Dieng, actually outrebounded him last year (especially on the offensive glass) and can be just as accurate in the mid-range area. For a team that needs to improve its defense, Gibson is a much better fit in the starting lineup.
The contract is fine — but now Minnesota is out of cap space
Minnesota traded Ricky Rubio to Utah to clear enough space to make big splashes in free agency, then came away with Jeff Teague and Gibson. That’s a decent haul, but the Wolves haven’t solved their perimeter shooting woes and still have several bench holes on their roster to fill. Minnesota appears to be out of the Paul Millsap sweepstakes as well, though clearing enough cap space or agreeing to a sign-and-trade arrangement to land him was always a long shot.
To sign Gibson, they need to renounce the rights to Shabazz Muhammad and may need to trade or stretch Cole Aldrich to create more room. Minnesota will retain the Room Mid-Level Exception starting at $4.3 million, which they should use to find another wing player that can play behind Butler and Andrew Wiggins. They could also look to trade Dieng to solve the logjam up front, but the center market has been cold.
Was using this money on Gibson the right allocation of resources? It’s a fair question.
The good news is that the Wolves only have Gibson under contract for two years, so he comes off the books before Towns’ next hefty contract begins.
Will Gibson start or come off the bench?
Bet on Gibson starting. He’s beaten out young players like Dieng before and would allow Towns to slide to his more natural position of center. Dieng should still play plenty, forming a quality three-man rotation up front with Gibson and Towns.
That frontcourt should be significantly better defensively than last year, but it does lack for shooting range. Minnesota’s only combo foward with range on the roster is Nemanja Bjelica, who is coming off a foot injury.