- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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NEW YORK -- Chicago Bulls forward Kurt Thomas will start again on Saturday afternoon against the New York Knicks and coach Tom Thibodeau hinted that Thomas could stay in the lineup for the foreseeable future.
Thomas was inserted into the starting lineup on Tuesday in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers as Taj Gibson missed the game due to a concussion. Gibson was cleared to play Wednesday night in the Bulls' win over the Washington Wizards, but only played 31 seconds. Thibodeau said after the game that he chose not to play Gibson much because he had missed several days of practice.
"As of right now [Thomas will continue to start]," Thibodeau said before Friday morning's practice. "But that's subject to change depending upon who we're playing against. I like the size and strength of Kurt and I think it's a good combination with Carlos [Boozer]."
Gibson, who said he and Thibodeau haven't talked much about his role over the last few days, was expected to practice and said he feels fine physically.
"I've been clear of headaches," Gibson said. "It's just getting my body back in full-contact mode."
No matter how Thibodeau decides to divvy up the minutes, he knows that Gibson is important to his team's future, especially with Joakim Noah out for the next 8-10 weeks after having thumb surgery. The first-year coach said that he liked having Gibson as an option off the bench, but added that his role could change down the line.
"In some situations I could see him starting, also," Thibodeau said. "He's a very valuable part of the team and we need him to play well."
For Thomas, the experience is just another part of NBA life. The 38-year-old veteran has seen it all during his career and knows that you can go from not playing to playing 40 minutes a night in the blink of an eye.
"That's how this league is," Thomas said. "And that's why you have to always keep yourself in shape, keep your mind right and stay ready. Because injuries are part of the game, they can happen at any time and when your number's called, you have to be ready to go out there and perform."
Thomas' recent performances (16 points and 15 rebounds combined over the last two games) may have surprised some, but not Thibodeau.
"To be honest, that's kind of what I expected," he said. "He's been a terrific post defender, team defender, his entire career. He came in as a rookie doing it and he's done it for 18 years now. He's very professional, he stays ready.Whenever he's called upon, he's performed well."
While nobody likes having his starting spot taken, Gibson seems to be taking it in stride.
"I'm learning a lot [from Thomas]," he said. "It's good for the team, with helping us get together as a whole. Because I know we're going to really need everybody coming down this late stretch."
It's also a little surreal at times for the second-year forward, who grew up in New York watching Thomas, who played seven years for the Knicks.
"It's crazy," Gibson said. "I think about it every day when I get up, when we're practicing. I see Kurt. I just remember Kurt taking so many different good shots for the Knicks, and it's crazy."
Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.
20hSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann