Bulls excited for Noah: 'Joakim looks like Joakim'


Bulls excited for Noah: 'Joakim looks like Joakim'

At this time a year ago, Joakim Noah was hurting.

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year had undergone arthroscopic knee surgery days after the Bulls' playoff loss to the Wizards and spent the entire offseason rehabilitating. He walked into Bulls media day having not played any basketball over the summer, filling his time with what he referred to as "boring stuff." He claimed he'd be ready for the rigors of the season, and to his part he lived up to his prediction. Noah played in 67 games and all 12 postseason contests, and only two of the 15 games he missed were attributed to left knee soreness.

But simply put, Noah wasn't himself. Granted, he wasn't going to replicate his All-NBA first team numbers from 2013-14, when the absence of Derrick Rose (knee) and Luol Deng (traded to Cleveland) made him the focal point on both ends of the floor. But Noah averaged just 7.2 points on a career-low 44.5 percent shooting and 9.6 rebounds. He was a step behind on defensive rotations, didn't have the same burst that had carried him to back-to-back NBA All-Defensive first team honors and struggled around the rim, shooting nine percentage points lower in that area from the previous year, per basketball-reference.com.

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Noah would be the last to make excuses for his lackluster performance, and he didn't. The reality was, however, that an offseason stuck in the weight room and training facility instead of on the basketball floor was a setback. It's a situation Noah has reversed heading into 2015, the start of the Fred Hoiberg era and an important contract year for the 30-year-old.

He spent his offseason in Santa Barbara, Calif., at Peak Performance Project (P3), focusing on basketball and improving his strength as he looks to bounce back from last year's forgettable campaign. His motivation was simple: his teammates had picked him up last year, winning 50 games and earning the East's No. 3 seed. Now it's Noah's time to pay it forward.

"Just needed a little time to regroup and get healthy. That was my priority for this summer, and I’m really, really excited for this upcoming season," he said. "I just wanted to come right for my teammates. They were there for me. Last year was very tough for me, just not being able to move the way that I wanted to on the court, be able to play the way that I wanted to play. I’m excited to be back in Chicago and show my teammates that I can be there for them."

Added general manager Gar Forman: "Joakim looks like Joakim. He's live, he's active, he's had a good summer of training."

Fred Hoiberg said he hasn't made any decisions on the starting lineup, or the more important finishing lineup. He spent time with each member of the Bulls at some point over the summer, meeting with Noah on his journey along the West Coast that included meeting with Derrick Rose (Los Angeles) and Aaron Brooks (Oregon). Much was made last season about the Bulls potentially splitting up true centers Noah and Pau Gasol, shifting Noah to the second unit to better balance the Bulls' depth.

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Hoiberg said he'll experiment frequently during the preseason with lineups, presumably meaning Noah will see time both in the starting lineup and coming off the bench.

"There’s a lot of flexibility to put guys in a lot of positions. There’s a lot of versatility on this roster. I don’t know if I can answer that question today. The important thing for me is before that first game against Cleveland on October 27th, hopefully that’ll be more defined."

Hoiberg may not know where he'll place Noah in his rotation, but what he can expect is the old energetic center who feels fresh after an offseason spent on the basketball floor instead of the training table.

There are 600,000 reasons you won't hear Gar, Pax or Hoiberg discuss losing


There are 600,000 reasons you won't hear Gar, Pax or Hoiberg discuss losing

The Bulls made headlines on Tuesday when VP John Paxson announced that David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne would be entering the rotation, thus continuing the youth movement in Chicago.

On the surface the moves make sense. The 24-year-old Nwaba, the 25-year-old Felicio and the 23-year-old Cameron Payne will be replacing 28-year-old Justin Holiday, 29-year-old Robin Lopez and 25-year-old Jerian Grant. The Bulls want to see what they have in these younger players who haven't played much; they already know what they have in Lopez and Holiday, and Grant (like the other two) is under contract through next year.

OK, got that? Here's why they're making the move: they're sitting 8th in the NBA Lottery standings and really want to move into the top-5 to give themselves a chance at what should be a loaded front-end of the draft class. It's pretty obvious, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either named Gar Forman, John Paxson or Fred Hoiberg.

And here's why: On Wednesday Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined a whopping $600,000 by the NBA for comments he made on a podcast regarding tanking. The Mavericks are currently 18-40, the third worst record in the NBA. This comes a season after they finished 33-49, netting them the No. 9 pick that turned into talented point guard Dennis Smith Jr.

So when Cuban was asked about the best interests of his Dallas team, which touts young talent but clearly isn't headed for the postseason in 2018, he said this on the House Call with Dr. J Podcast:

"I'm probably not supposed to say this, but, like, I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night, and here we are, you know, we weren't competing for the playoffs. I was like, 'Look, losing is our best option. [Commissioner] Adam [Silver] would hate hearing that, but I at least sat down and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we're not going to tank again. This was, like, a year-and-a-half tanking, and that was too brutal for me. But being transparent, I think that's the key to being kind of a players owner and having stability."

Cuban isn't wrong, and the Mavericks sure as hell aren't the only team tanking. But to come right now and admit that losing is the team's best option wasn't, as Cuban predicted, going to sit well with the league office.

Commissioner Adam Silver sent out a memo with the fine that said Cuban's comments "which concerned his perspective on the team's competitive success this season" were "detrimental to the NBA."

So while the Bulls are going about their business in trying to lose as many games down the stretch as possible, don't expect anyone to admit it's the reason behind their personnel moves. There are 600,000 reasons why.

NBA Draft Tracker: Michigan State's Miles Bridges


NBA Draft Tracker: Michigan State's Miles Bridges

NBA general managers were fully expecting to see Miles Bridges declare for the 2017 draft after a solid, but unspectacular freshman season at Michigan State. Bridges arrived in East Lansing as one of the nation’s top prospects, and his impressive leaping ability led to a number of highlight reel plays for Tom Izzo’s Spartans.

Problem is, Bridges didn’t show much versatility to his offensive game because of an inconsistent outside shot and inability to create shots off the dribble. Bridges probably would have been a late lottery pick last year on athletic talent alone, but to his credit, he decided to go back to Michigan State for his sophomore season and work on some of his weaknesses.

Unfortunately for Bridges, he really hasn’t shown much improvement year to year. Yes, he’s leading the Big Ten in free throw shooting at 89%, but his other numbers are basically flat from season to season. Bridges averaged 16.9 points a year ago, 17.1 this season. He shot .486 from the field in 2016-17, .477 this year. Even with all the work he put in on his 3 point shooting, his percentage has dropped slightly this season, from .389 to .376. Rebounding is also down slightly, from 8.3 to 6.8. 

Bottom line, Bridges is once again projected as a late lottery pick.

How does he fit for the Bulls? It’s no secret small forward and center are the two positions of need heading into the 2018 draft, and the 6-7 Bridges would give the Bulls another athletic frontcourt player who fits the pace and space game Fred Hoiberg prefers. Bridges could be a real weapon running the floor with Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine for alley-oop dunks, and he should continue to improve as a 3 point shooter.

The Bulls are hoping to land a top 5 pick to add one of the elite players in this draft, and unless the Pelicans drop into the late lottery, Bridges will probably be gone by the time that selection comes up. He’s probably a bit of a reach in the 6 to 10 range, but if positional need and athletic potential are the most important factors for the Bulls, Miles Bridges could be the choice if they don’t improve their position in the current lottery watch standings.

Personally, I would prefer either Kentucky’s Kevin Knox or Villanova’s Mikal Bridges (no relation) over Miles Bridges as a small forward prospect, but all 3 players offer different skill sets that could be helpful to a young, developing team like the Bulls.

The dream scenario would be drafting a young center like Deandre Ayton, Jaren Jackson Jr. or Mo Bamba with a top 5 pick, then coming back to add one of those 3 small forward prospects with the 1st rounder they acquired in the Niko Mirotic trade with New Orleans. We’ll all have to wait until the lottery is held on May 15th to see if the Bulls are in position to add two more foundation pieces to their rebuilding project.