Bulls: Noah 'ready to rumble', grateful to help kids at shopping spree


Bulls: Noah 'ready to rumble', grateful to help kids at shopping spree

Nobody disliked watching Joakim Noah hobble around last season more than Noah himself, as he followed up a top-5 MVP finish with arguably his most disappointing as a pro.

But just as spring brings hope for baseball players, the summer does wonders for injured basketball players given the requisite time to rest and recover from the wear and tear of previous seasons.

“I think it’s gonna be great. I’m really excited. I’m healthy,” said Noah at his back-to-school giveaway at the Footlocker on State Street downtown, through his Noah’s Arc Foundation. “Haven’t felt healthy in a long time. I’m really excited for the coming year. It’s gonna be a lot of ball movement. I’m just really excited to come in and prove myself.”

“I’m moving a lot better. I feel strong. I’m ready to rumble. I think last year was a tough year for us. Sometimes humbling is good.”

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Playing 67 games, his scoring averaged dipped nearly by half (12.6 to 7.2), his assists and rebounds took a modest downturn and his defensive rating raised above 100 points allowed per 100 possessions (102) for the first time since the 2009-10 season, the last before Tom Thibodeau took over. A knee surgery after the 2014 playoffs took a longer time to recover from, resulting in the medical staff and management placing a minutes’ restriction on the center—creating a mini-controversy between the front office and Thibodeau.

“Injuries (stink),” said Noah, using a more colorful word. “When you’re an athlete you want to feel good. Sometimes you take your health for granted. It definitely put a lot on things in perspective for me. And now I’m a lot more focused. Very excited for what’s coming.”

Returning virtually the same roster with the exception of rookie Bobby Portis and a new coach, the humbling loss at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round doesn’t diminish much of his confidence.

Many believed he could be the odd man out as far as personnel moves from management, but the Bulls want to take another go at it with this core.

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“I think continuity is gonna be great for us,” Noah said. “Even though it’s the same group, it’s still gonna be change at the leadership role as far as coaching. So it’s gonna be very different. So having the same team brings stability as well.”

As was his excitement for the coming season with new coach Fred Hoiberg, who visited him in California after being hired shortly following Thibodeau’s ouster, was his giddiness for helping the kids as part of his foundation. Dozens ran through the Footlocker and Kids Footlocker as part of his back to school shopping spree, giving Noah a huge level of satisfaction.

“It’s a blessing,” Noah said. “To be able to do this, bring some kids to the footlocker, thanks to footlocker for doing this and it’s just cool to put a smile on those kids faces.”

“I think that it’s important to use your platform and to be able to do some positive things. Feels good to have nice clothes and nice shoes going into the school. It’s good to keep the kids as active as possible through our foundation with after school programs. Chicago’s been good to me so I’ll try to help out.”

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Joakim Noah jersey]

Noah has been outspoken about quelling the gun violence that has raged rampant through the city, which has senselessly taken too many Chicago youths. He’s produced documentaries and raised awareness, leading to being awarded the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for his dedication to the Chicago community.

Seeing the maturity of the kids impacted by his foundation is a level of satisfaction unmet by many others.

“To me that’s the best feeling, just knowing I have a relationship with some of these kids, I’ve seen them grow,” Noah said. “I’ve been working at this community center for four years now. So watching them grow up and seeing them take leadership roles. For the younger kids, some of them started off playing in the leagues and now they’re coaching. I’m really excited about it. Being with a franchise for nine years I’m able to do things like this. So it feels great.”

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment


Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie


Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”