Joakim Noah is reportedly done in Chicago
The Chicago Bulls already seemed to be resigned to losing Pau Gasol in free agency after the debacle that was last season.
Now,they might be saying goodbye to one of their longest-tenured fan favorites.
The Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley reported today that Joakim Noah has informed teammates that he won’t be returning to the Bulls, possibly ending their free agent push to re-sign him before it began. If this truly comes to pass, it will end Noah’s nine-year run with the Bulls that featured one trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010-2011 and a 2013-2014 season that saw him finish fourth in MVP voting as he carried a rag-tag Bulls squad to the playoffs sans Derrick Rose.
The biggest reason for this supposed desire to breakup with the only franchise that drafted him in 2007? Distrust of the front office—especially Gar Forman—and the future direction of the franchise under his and John Paxson’s leadership.
More so than possible bitterness about his benching by first-year coach Fred Hoiberg and the did-he-or-didn’t-he-volunteer firestorm that ensued, Noah’s beef with Forman in particular appears to be rooted in Forman’s perceived lack of accountability within the Bulls’ organization, a sentiment that seems not to be uncommon among Bulls’ players.
And if you consider what happened at the end of the offseason, perhaps that perception isn’t completely misguided.
I’m referring, of course, to the head-scratching press conference in which GarPax passed the buck on the entire season, refusing to acknowledge their own mistakes (i.e. not trading Pau Gasol at the deadline because they thought they were real contenders and now likely losing him for nothing) and inability to construct a talented enough roster to compete in the classically weak Eastern Conference.
Not to mention the fact that their closeness with the Reinsdorfs allegedly has many Bulls players, including Noah, doubting whether either Forman or Paxson will be fired if they continue to prove incapable of moving the team forward.
As such, Noah appears content to leave this organization for a fresh start somewhere else—probably, like Gasol, a place that has a legitimate opportunity to compete for a title next season. And truthfully, if we can transition back to the basketball court for a moment, that might be in the best interest of both parties.
Obviously Noah was unhappy with his role early in the season and the thought of coming off of the bench, and though he was starting to play more minutes just before a shoulder injury ended his season, he never seemed to fit Hoiberg’s team philosophy. And the numbers bore that out: though his assist and rebound numbers (3.8 and 8.8, respectively) were fairly on par with his career averages (3.0 and 9.4, respectively), he scored a career low 4.3 ppg and shot a subpar 38.3% from the field, easily below his lifetime averages of 9.3 ppg and 49.0% on field goals.
After averaging 12.6 ppg in his MVP candidate season, Noah’s scoring average per game dropped off precipitously in his next two seasons, indicating that he never really turned the corner as an offensive threat other than as a passer and rebounder.
Combine that with the injury problems that Noah has battled throughout his Bulls tenure—plantar fasciitis, dislocating his shoulder, knee issues, etc.—and I honestly don’t know what else Chicago can get from him on the court.
Does he bring passion, leadership, hustle, and other intangibles to the table? Yes. But again, I go back to a question I previously asked: does having Noah on this team make the Bulls any more likely to win a championship, or at this point, even make the playoffs? Three years ago, with him staying healthy, starting 80 games, and putting up MVP-type numbers (albeit without Rose)? I would say yes. In his current state? No.
His time as a great/borderline-elite player in this league is over. Perhaps this is a reach, but maybe his openly trying to make a clean break with the Bulls is a tacit acknowledgement that he believes that Bulls also think this and maybe wouldn’t provide him with the money/role he desires going forward.
So while I have always respected Noah’s game and hope he does well wherever he chooses to go next—any bets that he goes to Minnesota?—it makes sense for both him and the Bulls organization to move on. If he had wanted to return, he likely would’ve been one of the few good bigs in the free agent pool the Bulls had a shot to sign, as I don’t anticipate the likes of Andre Drummond, Al Horford, or Dwight Howard will be coming here.
That said, a Noah reunion would seem too much like a lifetime achievement deal rather than one that actually moves the Bulls’ cause forward. And wouldn’t such a move make Forman and Paxson exactly what Noah and others are accusing them of: not being the right men to truly move the franchise forward? Nonetheless, if this truly is the last ride for Noah in Chicago, I wish him all the best wherever he ends up next.
And I’ll leave you with this, my all-time favorite Noah play: