Nerlens Noel eventually will return from the knee injury that has sidelined him for the first six games of the season with the fast-starting Knicks, likely signaling a decrease in playing time for veteran big man Taj Gibson.
It should be no surprise by now that the 36-year-old Gibson accepts that reality, nor why Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau fully trusts the 13-year veteran so freely in their third franchise together.
“I’ve been in this league a while now. So it really doesn’t mean anything to me,” Gibson said after contributing season highs of 13 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench in Saturday’s 123-117 win in New Orleans. “I’m happy he’s coming back. I’m just holding down the fort until [Noel is] ready to come play. We need him. He’s been really big for us.
“Like I’ve said before, whenever Thibs calls my name or whenever I get a chance go in and play, whatever minutes I get, I’m gonna go play as hard as I can.”
There rarely has been any question about the 6-9 Gibson’s effort level during his two seasons with the Knicks, nor in his previous stops under Thibodeau in Chicago and Minnesota.
With Mitchell Robinson thriving in his return from March foot surgery (a league-leading .880 field-goal percentage), there only will be so many rotation minutes once Noel makes his season debut — possibly Monday against the Raptors — after sitting out the entirety of the Knicks’ 5-1 start.
“Right now I’m just trying to do what’s best for the team,” Gibson said. “When Nerls comes back, I’m gonna support him. That’s my young boy and I’m extremely happy because I know the work he puts in on a daily basis, and our big-man group, we work together. I’m happy to see everybody get some reps because I’m old enough.”
“Whatever Thibs need me to do, the coaching staff, I just enjoy playing the game and being on this team.”
Gibson added that his body “feels great” and joked that he and Derrick Rose have discussed being on a “no candy” diet for Halloween and at this stage of their careers. The 33-year-old Rose had suggested last week that he’s hoping to “Tom Brady it” in regards to extending his playing days.
“Well, we’ll see,” Gibson said when asked if he’s taking a similar approach. “I’ve been blessed to be in this league a while now. Especially becoming a late pick, coming in a lot older than guys. So I’m just happy to still be in this league. I’m just gonna ride it until they tell me they don’t want me to play anymore, I guess.
“But until then I’m just gonna keep playing hard and do what I have to do. But I’m always ready, [until] I’m ready to be a coach one day.”
Thibodeau has said that he believes coaching could be in Gibson’s future once his playing career ends. Gibson said he has enjoyed serving as a mentor to Robinson and rookie center Jericho Sims so far this season.
“I’m so proud of Mitch because he’s turning into that center that we can really rely on,” Gibson said. “You look at our last couple of games, we’ve been going against some real alligators down there, from [Joel} Embiid and [Jonas] Valanciunas.
“When I’m around the young guys, I’m constantly…we go out to eat, we hang out together, so they keep me just full of life. But I’m really taking care of my body, but I’m just always ready to play.”