CHICAGO – The Bulls welcomed James Johnson and Taj Gibson to town Monday with a news conference at the United Center.
The event did not feel like the tip-off to a new era, as did last year’s introduction of Derrick Rose, but everyone seemed excited for what lies ahead.
Neither rookie has to be a star for this year’s draft to be considered a success, but both will be expected to make quick contributions.
“We were looking for guys who would be ready sooner rather than later,” general manager Gar Forman said. “There’s still going to be an adjustment period.”
Johnson and Gibson, both forwards, probably will have the luxury of a longer adjustment period if the Bulls head into the season with their roster mostly intact.
If the only change is, say, losing Ben Gordon to free agency, the Bulls would have a deep frontcourt. The two rookies could be spot players.
If the Bulls decide to shake things up with a trade involving, hypothetically, Tyrus Thomas or Luol Deng, then Johnson and Gibson could be called on more rapidly.
The rookies will bring “great versatility, first of all for our roster,” Forman said. “I think both of them bring versatility as far as their games are concerned.
“James can play inside and outside. Taj is a skilled player who brings length and activity to the floor.”
Johnson and Gibson spoke about their backgrounds during Monday’s news conference. They posed for pictures with their new jerseys – No. 16 for Johnson, matching his draft slot, and No. 22 for Gibson.
Johnson spoke about the mental and physical discipline he got from martial arts, in which he was undefeated as a teenage kickboxer.
Growing up with eight siblings, including four older brothers, also was a boost.
“I grew up getting roughed up and hating to lose,” Johnson said. “That’s how we all were. Every day, playing basketball or fighting, we went hard at it and we made each other better at everything we did.”␇
Johnson called his hometown of Cheyenne, Wyo., an underappreciated basketball hotbed. He was his high school team’s point guard and a star wide receiver before accepting a basketball scholarship to Wake Forest, which used him as a swing forward.
As a former point guard who likes to push the ball, Johnson thinks he theoretically could engineer fast breaks for the Bulls.
Of course, the Bulls already have Rose for such situations.
“They’ve already got a great floor general,” Johnson said. “Hopefully I can work my way to where the coaches trust me to do something like that.”
Gibson received less fanfare than Johnson during the predraft process and, according to the consensus opinion of analysts, was a second-round prospect.
But Gibson has defied the odds before. He’s a 24-year-old NBA rookie whose route to college at USC, where he finished as the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots, included two years of home-schooling as a teenager.
Gibson blossomed from a borderline scholarship prospect into a key contributor at USC, and he figures he can make a similar leap in the pros.
“I fought really hard,” Gibson said. “Nothing was given to me. For those who have doubts, I’ll show you when the season comes if I get an opportunity. Until then, I’m just going to work hard in practice and the facility and get better.”
The first step in that process for Johnson and Gibson: summer-league play, which begins July 14 in Las Vegas.