Joakim Noah, the longtime Bulls starting center and two-time All-Star, may be moving on from the Chicago Bulls thanks to a lack of trust in the Bulls organization.
The Chicago Sun-Times reported on Wednesday that Noah “has been telling teammates in recent weeks that he was done with the organization once free agency begins” and that multiple Bulls mistrust general manager Gar Forman.
It should be noted that Noah’s agent has denied these claims, stating about his client that “there has been zero indication he doesn’t wish to return to Bulls.” But regardless of which claim is correct, the fact that Noah leaving Chicago is a possibility shows just how much the Bulls organization, the team, and Noah have fallen.
Struggles with the Bulls
It was not always like this for Noah. When he was drafted in 2007, he was a long, gangly center who had been on two NCAA championship teams with Florida. But by his second year, he created what may be the best post-Jordan moment in Bulls history with his famous steal and dunk over Paul Pierce.
When Tom Thibodeau took over the Bulls in 2010, Noah and Thibodeau formed a beautiful partnership. Derrick Rose may have won the 2011 MVP, but the Bulls won games through their stout defense, and Noah was the heart and soul of that defense. When Rose got injured, Noah and Thibs were able to keep the Bulls afloat and win some playoff series over the next few years.
But when Thibodeau left and Fred Hoiberg took over the coaching position, things changed. The previously slow, defensive Bulls struggled to adapt to Hoiberg’s up-tempo offense and Noah explicitly stated that he was unsure of his offensive role. Hoiberg’s decision to bench Noah at the start of the season did not help.
In 2014, Noah was an All-Star and the Defensive Player of the Year. But two years later, he only played 29 games before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in January.
The legacy of Jerry Reinsdorf
What makes this news all the more frustrating for Chicago Bulls fans is that this is not the first time when Bulls stars have clashed with the team’s ownership and management. Jordan, Pippen, and Phil Jackson famously had issues with owner Jerry Reinsdorf and then-general manager Jerry Krause, which caused all three to depart from the Bulls.
It may be nearly 20 years since the last Chicago championship, but Reinsdorf controlled the Bulls then and he still owns the Bulls now. And as the Bulls look towards dismantling the old Rose-Noah defensive core, it is disappointing to see how Reinsdorf failed to properly support the Bulls over the years. He has continued to support Forman, even while Forman has failed to provide a true supporting cast, instead adding a group of players who are only good on one end of the court.
But the reality is that as much as Noah was a fan favorite, the Bulls may be better off letting him go. Noah’s athletic and relentless playstyle may have won him legions of adoring Chicago fans. But athletes with that playstyle fade away hard as their athleticism wanes. Just look at the rapid decline of Ben Wallace.
Noah is 31-years-old, and also underwent knee surgery in 2014 in addition to his more recent shoulder surgery. And 20-year-old Bobby Portis is waiting in the wings after a solid rookie season.
Reinsdorf and Forman may have failed the Rose-Noah Bulls, but what’s done is done. And as the Bulls failed to make the playoffs, it may be time to jettison Noah and start over with a fresher, more up-tempo squad under Hoiberg.
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