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Knicks waive Taj Gibson. Will he return as Tom Thibodeau’s assistant?

Taj Gibson could transition into an assistant coach role in New York for the remainder of the season.

The New York Knicks waived veteran big man Taj Gibson on Jan. 7, the PR team announced on the official socials of the franchise. The Knicks later released a short note written by Knicks president Leon Rose thanking Taj for his contributions.

“Taj stepped up in a big way to help our team this season and had an immeasurable impact on our organization both on and off the court throughout his time with the Knicks,” Rose wrote. “He was instrumental in helping us build the foundation and create the Knick culture that exists today. We’re extremely grateful and thank Taj for all his contributions.”

The Knicks signed Gibson on Dec. 15 after both Mitchell Robinson and third-string center Jericho Sims suffered injuries and were ruled out for the upcoming months and weeks.

Gibson signed a one-year deal with New York in mid-December, ahead of his second stint with the organization after playing in NYC earlier this decade and coming with a long relationship with head coach Tom Thibodeau.

As pointed out by Fred Katz of The Athletic, Gibson’s contract was about to become guaranteed at the end of Jan. 7, the day he was cut by the Knicks. New York opted to keep guard Ryan Arcidiacono on the roster, the former Villanova standout being the other player on a non-guaranteed deal within the Knicks franchise.

Arcidiacono will earn $2.5 million this season while Gibson will count for almost $500k in dead money on the Knicks’ salary cap, per HoopsRumors.

Once needed because of an absolute lack of depth at the five, Gibson was a surplus asset on the roster following the trade completed by the Knicks at the end of December in which they landed backup center Precious Achiuwa from the Toronto Raptors.

Leading up to the Dec. 30 deal, Gibson had appeared in nine games for the Knicks, his first outings since he wrapped up a season in Washington last year in which he logged minutes in 49 games donning the Wizards jersey.

Gibson played on Saturday, Dec. 30 as none of the players coming from Toronto were available. He only logged 17 seconds in the first game with Achiuwa in New York’s gameday squad on New Year’s when the Knicks hosted Minnesota at MSG.

The old artist known as OG in the locker room leaves New York (for now) with 10 games under his belt throughout his second run with the club having spent the 2019-22 three-season period with the organization before joining the Wizards last season.

There is a chance Gibson returns to the Knicks later this season, although it’d take New York to stay put in the transaction front past the trade deadline. In other words, the Knicks opened a roster spot (they have now 14 of the 15 slots filled) by waving Taj, and if the hole is still there on Feb. 9 the franchise could always re-sign Gibson to fill that position.

That, however, is highly unlikely.

As reported by Ian Begley of SNY on Sunday, Dec. 7, the day the Knicks parted ways with Gibson, the move had everything to do with the franchise acquiring some “roster flexibility” as the Knicks “expect to be active between now [and the] trade deadline.”

The Knicks can now absorb one more player than they send out, meaning they can complete one-for-two, two-for-three, and so on types of deals with other franchises. For example, the Knicks could not trade Evan Fournier ($18.8 million) to the Pistons in exchange for Alec Burks ($10.4) alone as their salaries wouldn’t match, but they could go for a one-for-two, throw Monter Morris ($9.8) in to make the salaries exchanged work, and round the deal with some draft picks or anything else.

Gibson turned 38 years old last June and he’s the fourth-oldest active NBA player this season only behind LeBron James, P.J. Tucker, and Chris Paul. Approaching 39, Gibson could actually rejoin a sideline before the campaign is over—albeit in a much different role.

Last Saturday, after beating the Wizards for the fourth consecutive win since the OG trade, Tom Thibodeau said he’d “100 percent” give Gibson a role on his staff if he wants to join it and the New York Knicks brass entertains the idea, per Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

This is nothing new, mind you.

Back when he signed with the franchise last month to play an ancillary rotational role as a backup center, Gibson said that he was “still considering [coaching],” although only in “the right situation.”

He highlighted the current Knicks’ coaching staff as an ideal one for him to eventually join if he decides to call it quits and transition into a coaching role.

“I want to be somewhere where I can learn, brighten my future,” Gibson said on Dec. 15. “This is a bright spot for me, being around the coaching staff who I can learn from. … Here I’m so locked into the coaching staff. They basically taught me how to be a pro. It only fits right where I can learn, just fall right into place.”

It’s worth noting that Gibson was referring to coach Thibs and his acolytes, who are partly the same group that started to coach and develop him one season after Taj joined the Association in June 2009 with Tom Thibodeau taking the reins of the Chicago Bulls in time for Gibson’s sophomore season.

To be fair, Gibson’s time as a pro player might be well over outside of his off-court contributions as a leading veteran voice.

“I was tired. I ain’t gonna lie,” Gibson said on Dec. 20 after playing 13 minutes for the Knicks. “The young guys were laughing at me.”

This type of slow-cooked transition from player to coach (or a different front-office role) has happened multiple times in the NBA. In Gibson’s case, it’d all be quite sudden and mid-season if it comes to fruition, but we saw something similar in Miami as the Heat kept Udonis Haslem in their roster for a few years without him having much impact on the court but led the team from the sidelines in a player-coach-mentor-veteran leader role.

Haslem played a combined 65 games between 2016-23 getting 477 minutes of total playing time in that span. He retired aged 42 at the end of last season, playing 71 minutes in 7 games, and smoothly transitioned to a vice president of basketball development role last November.

Back in 2021, after the Knicks re-signed Gibson to a multi-year deal, Thibodeau was asked about eventually landing Taj in his staff and he said the then-37 Gibson would be “an asset to any organization, and I hope I’m still around (when he jumps into coaching). I told him he can play about five or six more years and then we’ll go from there.

“He’s a great veteran leader,” added Thibs. “It’s like having another assistant coach out there. He just knows everything.”

Whether it happens this season, later this year, or further down the road, it feels inevitable for Gibson and the Knicks to find a way to reunite with Taj joining Thibs’ staff and who knows if also/even taking over the head coach position when Thibodeau leaves NYC.

Good luck, Taj. OAKAAK!

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