Nobody on the Chicago Bulls was happy about the Luol Deng trade. Even the most ardent of Bulls salary capologists couldn’t have easily stomached a deal that sent away a two-time reigning All-Star for no immediate rotation help, no likely first round draft picks (unless you’re really bullish on the future of the Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers), and no real solution at the wing Deng used to occupy. The team’s front office isn’t attempting to force their team into losing most of their remaining 49 games, but things will be hard with Deng in Cleveland and the injured Derrick Rose out.
In the press conference explaining the deal, Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson listed All-Star center Joakim Noah by name as a reason why he thinks the team Paxson helped put together will remain competitive even while planning for a luxury tax-free future. In the team’s first game since Deng was dealt, a 92-87 home win over the Phoenix Suns, Noah served notice why: Joakim may have missed 10 of 15 shots, but he played excellent defense while hauling in 16 rebounds, and continuing his improved presence as a facilitator by dishing six assists along with 14 points and a block.
Noah didn’t say anything to the media following the game. He didn’t say anything to the media prior to the game, or during that afternoon’s shootaround just before John Paxson’s press conference. Three days later, he’s still not talking to those who were hoping to record his thoughts prior to Friday night’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
It was believed that he would address the media – all of four Chicago-based reporters – after the Bulls’ Friday morning shootaround at the Bradley Center. But Noah told a team official that he would remain mute.
It begs the question: Just how angry is Noah? And is his silent act hindering the Bulls in their effort to turn the page on the deal?
Tom Thibodeau was asked when he’ll know that everyone has “gotten over” the deal, and the Bulls coach replied: “All that stuff, that’s’ the nature of the league. You’re always going to be dealing with injuries, and trades are part of it. You have to lock into the guys who are here. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the group we do have? If we do that, we will be fine.”
Noah is obviously ticked, and he has a right to be. He’s not an asset, and he’s not currently a member of the 2014-15 Chicago Bulls – a team that the franchise’s front office wants to field with a healthy Derrick Rose alongside Joakim, a possible free agent, and potentially international superstar Nikola Mirotic. He’s a member of the 2013-14 Chicago Bulls, a squad that has to schlep up to Milwaukee to play the Bucks on a Friday night, a team that still has nearly 50 games and possibly a playoff run yet to work through.
The team’s front office is working on paper, and they’re smart to do that presuming Chicago’s ownership group actually lets the front office do something with the payroll savings they’ll take in as a result of the Deng deal.
The team’s players? They have to sweat from now until spring, and while they’re well compensated for it, this won’t be an easy task with a Bulls rotation that has been decimated by injury, minor league demotions, and now salary concerns. Just a few hundred thousand dollars under the luxury tax, Chicago has yet to sign a free agent on a minimum salary to buffer the team’s bench.
On top of that is the fact that Luol Deng and Joakim Noah have been teammates since 2007, they’re close friends, and wrapping up nearly seven years’ worth of thoughts into a pat pregame interview just isn’t the easiest thing to do. That’s his buddy, and while anger may play a part of it, sometimes you go silent in order to keep from crying.
That said, Noah has been somewhat active on Twitter:
— Joakim Noah (@JoakimNoah) January 7, 2014
My g — Joakim Noah (@JoakimNoah) January 10, 2014
So there's that.
Joakim Noah will be fine. He busies himself in the game and in competition, and in teammates like Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich (alongside coach Tom Thibodeau), he has like-minded competitors that will band together to overcome. Discredit Chicago’s front office all you like, but in their defense they have cobbled together a roster that can just about take anything on. If not any team.
Even if Noah drops another stellar game against Milwaukee, we wouldn’t expect him to take the press on anytime soon. This isn’t something that’s easily gotten over, in public no less.
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