Bulls: Joakim Noah wants another shot at pairing with Pau Gasol


Bulls: Joakim Noah wants another shot at pairing with Pau Gasol

When the Bulls made their expected coaching change, one of the on-court changes many expected was to break up the tandem of Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol in the frontcourt.

In fact, when Fred Hoiberg had his availability on Media Day, the new Bulls coach anticipated it would be among the first three questions. The notion stemmed around Noah limping around last season and to a lesser extent, Gasol advancing in age. With Gasol being an All-Star player, the speculation was growing louder that Noah should come off the bench to balance out the floor.

But Noah feels Hoiberg should hold off on making a decision based off the tape from last year. The film doesn’t lie that the duo looked uneven last season, despite the gaudy record posted by the starting five for the few games they played together (16-5).

“I think we should give it an honest evaluation while I’m healthy,” Noah said. “Last year, I wasn’t healthy. Let’s see how it goes and then coaches can make a decision from there.”

In some respects, Noah was kept on the floor due to loyalty and a level of comfort from Tom Thibodeau, even as his left knee affected virtually every aspect of his game, including his confidence.

[MORE: Derrick Rose will resume basketball activity in two weeks following surgery]

The numbers fell across the board, which have been well-documented. And he wasn’t able to cover Gasol’s back defensively, contributing to his 102-point defensive rating, his highest in the Thibodeau era by far.

So Gasol, who underwent nasal surgery in June to alleviate breathing issues, is keeping an open mind to the pairing, although he knows he’ll see considerable time with Nikola Mirotic as a way to maximize the Bulls’ offensive prowess.

“That's got to be the coaching staff's decision, obviously, not ours,” Gasol said. “I think each player will do the best he can to be on the floor as long as possible and have significant minutes. It's good to see Jo healthy and moving well.”

Everything should be prefaced with saying it’s the first days of camp so bodies don’t have the wear-and-tear on it that will be around in February, but Noah won’t be limited by minute restrictions or the mental fears that he can’t do it physically.

“He looks fresh,” Gasol said. “He looks like he's in really good shape, has worked hard during the summer. Now he does feel and look bouncier. It's great to see him that way. From what I've seen so far, yes. The day and a half I've seen him, he looks really good.”

[RELATED - Bulls excited for Noah: 'Joakim looks like Joakim']

Moving well means lateral movement being the biggest improvement for Noah, allowing him to cover ground quicker baseline to baseline and on high screen-rolls, should the Bulls decide to trap up high in an aggressive setting.

“I just feel bouncier, just lighter on my feet,” Noah said. “Just waking up in the morning and moving good, that’s a good feeling. Doing a lot of yoga every morning before I come in. Just taking care of myself a little different. This isn’t my first rodeo.”

Of course Noah has been through it before, and Gasol is a veteran of many training camps, so one wonders how much Hoiberg can experiment with the two playing together in the preseason, especially when the plan is to limit Gasol’s usage to under the 34.4 minutes he played per game last season, his highest mark since the 2011-12 season when he was a much younger man.

“Well, we'll see how the season goes,” Gasol said. “Ideally, I'll play less than I did last year and that's kind of the plan, I guess. But we'll see what happens. I've just got to be ready. Seasons are long, are tough, are demanding and as a professional, you have to stay ready. It's not going to be ideal all the time. It's never ideal. You just have to work through it and do the best you can.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”

With Bulls-Timberwolves looming, Jimmy Butler is diagnosed with meniscus injury


With Bulls-Timberwolves looming, Jimmy Butler is diagnosed with meniscus injury

Jimmy Butler won't be facing the Bulls a second time this season.

Butler suffered a non-contact knee injury on Friday night in Houston. The initial X-ray only revealed he didn't have any broken bones, but the MRI had to wait until Saturday.

The Timberwolves announced that the MRI revealed a meniscus injury in Butler's right knee. There is not yet word on how long the All-Star guard will be out of action, but if it wasn't already assumed that he wouldn't play against the Bulls, it's now certain.

Avoiding the ACL tear means avoiding the worse case scenario, but this is likely still going to cause Butler to miss a significant amount of time with about a quarter of the regular season remaining. An update from Shams Charania of The Vertical said Butler could return for the postseason.

The Bulls take on the Timberwolves on Saturday night. Butler dropped 38 points at the United Center in his return to Chicago exactly two weeks ago, but the Bulls won 114-113.

Butler posted on Instagram a reaction to the injury.

Saturday's game will be the returns of Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn to Minnesota after they went the other direction in the Butler trade on draft night last June.