MINNEAPOLIS — Taj Gibson is on his way to Minnesota, giving Tom Thibodeau another trusted veteran to join Jimmy Butler and the new-look Timberwolves.
Gibson agreed to terms on a two-year, $28 million deal on Sunday, a person with knowledge of the negotiations told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal cannot be finalized until the NBA’s moratorium ends Thursday.
Gibson has spent the bulk of his career in Chicago, including five seasons under Thibodeau. Gibson and Butler brought a grinding, hard-nosed, defensive-minded attitude to those Bulls that embodied exactly what Thibodeau wanted in a team.
The Bulls traded Gibson to Oklahoma City last season, and Thibodeau did not hide his admiration for the 32-year-old power forward when the Thunder visited Minnesota in April.
“Taj could fit into any team in any role, and that’s the thing that you really respect about him,” he said. “He not only embraces the role that you ask him to play, he stars in it.”
When the Timberwolves finished their first season under Thibodeau with a disappointing 31 victories, Thibodeau mentioned defense and toughness as two of his main priorities to add this offseason. And after the young Wolves had difficulty applying his teachings on defense on their way to finishing 26th in the league in that category, it was clear that Thibodeau needed a player or two with experience in his system to help young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins figure things out.
Thibodeau started by trading for Butler last week, adding a three-time All-Star in his prime to team with two former No. 1 overall draft picks.
While Butler will be the perimeter defensive stopper, Gibson will bring that mindset to the frontcourt. A versatile defender who can guard three positions, Gibson averaged 10.8 points and 6.2 rebounds last season for the Thunder and Bulls.
Exactly where Gibson fits remains to be seen. He could start at power forward alongside Towns, allowing big man Gorgui Dieng to move to the bench and anchor the second unit. Or Gibson can come off the bench and give the backups a steady presence.
“You need him to start? He’ll start and play great. You ask him to come off the bench, he’s got a great motor and can come off the bench,” Thibodeau said in April. “He’s one of those guys where it doesn’t take him five minutes to warm up.”
The Wolves have also agreed to terms with free agent point guard Jeff Teague to replace Ricky Rubio, who was traded to Utah on Friday night. To officially sign both of those players, Minnesota will likely have to move a little more money to create the necessary cap room. They could renounce the rights to restricted free agent Shabazz Muhammad or try to package the lottery-protected first-round pick they got from the Jazz in the Rubio trade as a sweetener for a team to take on the remaining two years of Cole Aldrich’s contract.
Both moves may be necessary because the Wolves still have some holes to fill. They are still short of 3-point shooters after passing on adding free agent J.J. Redick, a sharpshooter who was highly interested in coming to Minnesota.
The Wolves never truly engaged Redick on substantive talks for a multiyear deal, instead turning their focus to adding Gibson. They also could use another backup point guard to join Tyus Jones behind Teague.