Part 6 of a series analyzing the New York Knicks:
If Tom Thibodeau becomes the next Knicks head coach, Taj Gibson can be assured of a spot on the roster.
Otherwise, it’s going to be a tight squeeze. His team option is meaty despite the good work he put in this season as the Knicks’ starting center and Mitchell Robinson’s mentor.
After the Knicks got off to a 1-7 start, former coach David Fizdale promoted the 34-year-old, 6-foot-9 lunchpail big man into the lineup. And Gibson never relinquished his spot.
The Fort Greene native made 56 starts and wound up setting his career-best in field-goal percentage at 58.4 percent.
Not known as a gifted 3-pointer shooter, Gibson’s buckets were of the gritty or garbage variety — hence making him the perfect role model for Robinson.
“Taj was solid on the court, but he was even better in the locker room,” one member of the Knicks family said. “He helped Mitch understand the pro game and how to carry yourself if you want to play in the NBA and have an impact.”
When the defense-minded veteran signed a two-year, $19 million deal in July, Gibson told The Post that molding Robinson was his No. 1 priority. He didn’t let the organization down. When Marcus Morris was traded Feb. 6, Gibson also became the clear No. 1 leader in the locker room.
And the Brooklyn product really would like to return.
“He takes great pride in being a Knick,” his agent, Mark Bartelstein, told The Post. “It means a lot to him.”
Gibson’s second year is worth $9.5 million. If the Knicks waive him, only $1 million will count on the cap.
The Knicks have eyed 2021 as the date they would like to make their big splash, but Gibson’s number is deemed high. Unless, that is, new president Leon Rose taps Thibodeau, who coached Gibson in Chicago and Minnesota.
Gibson is one of Thibodeau’s favorite players and Gibson spoke glowingly of him last month, saying he got a raw deal with the Timberwolves.
There’s no ego with Gibson and he hopes to see Robinson evolve as the starter next season.
“It’s his seat,” Gibson told The Post earlier this season. “I’m just keeping it warm for him. … He’s a starting center and all he has to do is grow. If he pushes himself like he’s doing, he’ll be an All-Star. He doesn’t know how good he is.”
The coaches give Gibson a share of credit for helping Robinson reduce his glut of fouls, especially the final two months. They were Frick and Frack — Gibson working out with Robinson in the weight room and constantly in his ear.
“He’s grown and understands the seriousness of the game now,” Gibson said. “He’s not just going out there playing.”
Gibson didn’t log a ton of minutes (16.5 per game), but Fizdale and interim coach Mike Miller liked how the Knicks got off to smooth starts. The Knicks were 4-3 when Gibson scored 12 or more points and 7-7 when he logged 20-plus minutes.
If Robinson emerges into All-Star status, Gibson deserves some kudos.
Statistics: 6.4 ppg, 4.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists
Contract Status: Gibson completing first year of 2-year, $19M pact. Second year of $9.5M is team option