Bulls

Noah dealing with injury by reflecting on past

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Noah dealing with injury by reflecting on past

Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011
5:21 p.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

NEWARK, N.J.Before Tuesdays win over the Raptors, injured center Joakim Noah held court in the Bulls locker room. But it didnt feel like old timesNoah doesnt normally talk to the media before gameswith a more somber look on the face of the charismatic New York City native.

Just being injured as an athlete, it sucks. It definitely puts things in perspective. It makes you appreciate the game a little bit more. I had to deal with that a little bit last year. Being injured is part of the process. Every athlete goes through it and its just how you deal with it, said Noah, who told reporters that hell get the cast off of his right handfollowing last months thumb surgerynext week. That Christmas one at home in New York was pretty tough for me, but theyre all tough. Even practices are toughI want to play in the games and Miami of course is a game I want to play in. I just want to be there with my teammates and improve as a group, and see how far we can take this thing.

Noah discussed playing in Toronto the night before he was scheduled to have surgery.

Usually injuries happen and you cant really play. I knew I was having surgery and I played that night. Its definitely a weird feeling, but hey, we won the game, recounted Noah. Doc said it wouldnt make a difference. I asked him if I could play and they were just like, Youre going to have surgery tomorrow, but if you want to play, I guess you can do whatever you want.

Although Noah cant play basketball, hes not sitting by idly.

Ive been working out for a little while. Dont tell anybody, thoughI want them to think I was just chilling on vacation. I will be back, said Noah. Ive been running and doing some conditioning, and doing some liftinga lot of core work, a lot of leg strengthening. Its hard to make everything game like. Theres nothing like playing in a basketball game, nothing you can do to simulate a basketball game, but Im doing the best I can, even with a cast on.

Just taking it day by day, controlling what I can control. I can do some running. Theres some things I can do out there. Work on my left hand, work on my in-and-outI cant crossover, but I can work on my in-and-out with my left hand. When it matters, Ill be ready.

For the perpetually active fourth-year player, watching his teammates play without him has been difficult, but hes gleaning some positives from the experience.

Am I learning anything? No, Im just learning that were a pretty good basketball team. The potential is scary. I think we definitely have a way to go and theres a lot of areas to improve on, but were still in a pretty good place right now, so weve just got to keep improving, stay humble, stay driven and not get caught up in any of the hype, even though I think were a little bit under the radar. But I think we have a chance to do something pretty special here and thats pretty exciting, explained Noah. Right now, I know Im not going to go on this road trip. Thibs thinks its better that I stay behind and just work out at the Berto, and right now, Im just focusing on that and well see how it goes when the cast comes off.

One of the more disappointing elements of Noah being sidelined is that his absence occurred after he and Carlos Boozer played in only a handful of contests together.

Carlos is obviously somebody who takes our team to a whole other level. We have a chance to do something special with the pieces that we have here and Ive never played with somebody whos that gifted offensively in the post, so Im very excited to hopefully learn a few things with him. Even when I was playing with him, I was hurt. I didnt really have a right hand, so Im excited to play with him when Im 100 percent healthy, said Noah.

Still, he thinks the close-knit teams burgeoning chemistry is one of the factors in the teams success thus far this season.

I think it means a lot. When you have teammates that respect each other, I think it really makes a huge difference. I think everybodys in it for the right reasons and I think thats very important, said Noah. Its not just a question about being close. Ive been on teams that have been very close and we couldnt win a game. Its more than that. Its about sacrificing for one another and not being selfish. At the end of the day, yeah, I think Ive been on teams that maybe weve hung out more, but that doesnt particularly mean youre going to win more basketball games. I think it helps to be close, but at the end of the day, playing for the right reasons are more important.

In the meantime, Noah is keeping himself occupied with, among other pursuits, filling in as a guest television analyst for Bulls games.

I was actually pretty nervous. Its tough. I had to cough at one point; I didnt know that you had to push a button. People are talking in the earpiece and I didnt know you had to keep talking while that goes on, so I had to learn a lot on the fly, but overall, people said it was pretty good. I was a little worried about it, but it was cool, he quipped.

After the teams slide when he was out last season, his noticeable impact on games and his popularity in the city, Noah knows hes not a forgotten man in Chicago or even elsewhere, as evidenced by his third-place position in the most recent balloting for the NBA All-Star Game.

Its cool, but I think theres a bigger picture than All-Star balloting and obviously as a player, thats humbling, he observed. Its not nothing, but at the end of the day, you have to look at the big picture and the big picture is to play at the end.

And for that to happen, a healthy Noah will be necessary.

The Starting Five

1. With the Bulls winning 14 of their last 16 games, it would be easy for the team to lose focus against some of their underwhelming opponents, such as the Nets, who Chicago is playing for the second time in less than a week. Luol Deng, however, believes the key to continuing the Bulls winning ways is to stay the course. Weve just got to stay humble. We know what were striving towards. Winning like this is new for a lot of us, so the main thing is really to know that it could be gone anytime. Weve just got to keep working hard and keep getting better. Its not really about our opponent each game. Tomorrow, Jerseys a good team, but its still about us, how were going to come out there and play tomorrowour main focus is us getting better. However the game goes, the main thing is did we get better that game or not and what did we do defensively, said Deng. A lot of times, you dont want to see teams right away, especially after you beat them. Guys get up for games like that and Im sure Jerseys waiting on us tomorrow. Then again, we can have the confidence that we beat themthe whole season so far has been fun. We work hard and its fun to see the results. Since training camp, weve been talking about how hard it was and were seeing results now, so weve got to keep staying with it.

2. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau shared his relatively humorous take on Noahs status. He can stretch andlets see what elsehe can run on the treadmill, he can do things like that and he can lift with his lower body. Its mainly all conditioning stuff, said Thibodeau, who added that Noah wouldnt be traveling with the team until we get closer to him coming back. While were practicing, hes working with our strength and conditioning peopleon game day, hell be down at the United Center early and hell be in back in the weight room, working out.

3. Noah also discussed three veteran players who have influenced him: Kurt Thomas and former teammates Ben Wallace and Brad Miller. Kurts somebody I grew up watching a lot of, when he used to play with the Knicks. Somebody I have great respect for. Probably one of the best post defenders, even to this day. I think that his post defense is very underrated. Its definitely one of the reasons why hes still around. Its definitely not his physique. I feel like Ive been lucky to have a lot of great vets since Ive been in the NBA, said Noah. I learned a lot from Ben Wallace, in terms of defensive body positioning and things like that. With Brad, I feel like I learned a lot about passing angles and even him, hes pretty slow on his feethe wasnt a great athletebut his positioning defensively, thats what he needed to be effective on defense. Brad was somebody who had a very high I.Q. and Kurt is kind of similar in that way. Hes not very quick on his feet, he doesnt have unbelievable bounce or anything like that, but hes somebody who understands positioning and angles.

4. An issue starting to gain steam nationallyas well as in Chicago, of courseis Derrick Roses MVP candidacy. Noah opined, I think that at first, when he said it in the beginning of the season, I think everybody looked at him like he was crazy, but hes somebody who has a lot of confidence in his ability and were playing at a pretty high level. I think that hes somebody who understands that the success of this team is going to determine a lot of things for him individually. I think that he understands that wellever since he got into the leaguethat its not about his stats, but its about the success of his team, thats whats going to bring everything.

5. Dont forget to follow me on Twitter at @CSNBullsInsider.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

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AP

Bobby Portis apologizes to teammates as Bulls continue to deal with all-around complicated situation

The mending hasn’t yet begun for the Bulls, but perhaps a good sign in moving forward from the Bobby Portis punch that delivered a concussion and broken facial bones to Nikola Mirotic is that it isn’t being ignored.

Fred Hoiberg is being tight-lipped about where matters stand, but he did at least say Portis returned to practice and apologized to the team Friday afternoon. Hoiberg wouldn’t reveal the contents of Portis’ apology and Portis didn’t address the media, but it’s clear things aren’t business-as-usual at the Advocate Center.

“Bobby was back at practice. It was good to have him back in here,” Hoiberg said. “Obviously, everybody’s looking forward to having Niko back in here, as well, hopefully soon.”

When asked about Portis’ spirit, Hoiberg deflected and preferred to talk about what adjustments the team will have to make in the immediate future, especially with rookie Lauri Markkanen having to go against Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge in the home opener Saturday night.

“That’s the biggest thing we have to do as far as preparing until we get our guys back, is throwing different lineups out there and hopefully getting better with our execution,” Hoiberg said.

Justin Holiday admitted that things aren’t normal, saying the actual games to start the season won’t serve as a welcome distraction because this isn’t something that can just be treated trivially.

He wouldn’t venture into getting into his teammates’ head, saying “Bobby came into today like Bobby. We’re not quite sure what he’s thinking mentally. We can’t assume that.”

But one thing that can’t be assumed is a sweeping under or pretending.

“I mean I don’t necessarily think this is a situation for us to get past,” Holiday said. “I think it’s a situation that obviously (needs) to be brought to the forefront. It’s a situation that needs to be taken care of for those two to be able to come together and be brothers again. I don’t think we’re trying to get past it.”

Holiday has been a leader during this early time, so his words and definitive tone were noticeable.

“They say sometimes you need time to heal,” Holiday said. “Again, we have to think about both situations in this. One guy is trying to get back healthy. And again, I don’t know. I wish I did. I wish we could just fix this the right way, but that’s not the case.”

It’s complicated all around, with no real precedent.

For Hoiberg, his handling has two faces. Since Portis is able to practice but has to sit out seven more games on a team-mandated suspension, he has to walk the line of incorporating Portis in daily drills and activities but also has to prepare a team that wasn’t prepared for two power forwards being out for an extended period.

That was on display Thursday as Quincy Pondexter likely played that position for the first time in his career, and it’s highly unlikely Paul Zipser practiced there at all with the depth the Bulls had until now.

“We have to get our guys ready to play positions that they haven’t played,” Hoiberg said. “We’re getting them in here early. We’re getting a group in to work on our execution. Quincy not only hasn’t played in two and a half years but I don’t know if he has ever played the 4.

“You just have to do the best with what you have.”

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

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USA TODAY

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

Quincy Pondexter’s trade to Chicago makes him a newcomer. His birth certificate makes him a veteran. But it’s his story that makes him worth listening to.

Even in the eye of team chaos, Pondexter’s debut with the Bulls had such a special meaning that when he entered the game to start the second quarter, he thought he would come to tears.

Having been out of basketball the last two years after knee surgeries went bad, Pondexter came close to dying in a New York hospital in January when his organs began to fail after a MRSA infection.

Catching MRSA can often lead to death.

“It wasn’t looking good,” Pondexter said. “It was tough. I prayed. My family was there close to me. Being able to play basketball again in less than a year is crazy. It’s all God. This journey has been amazing.”

His journey took him from being in New Orleans, where his knee troubles started, to being an addition to the Bulls in a trade months ago when the Bulls picked up cash and a second-round pick from the Pelicans.

Pondexter joined high school teammate and close friend Robin Lopez on a team needing some leadership, and due to the punch Bobby Portis threw to Nikola Mirotic Tuesday afternoon, it put Pondexter in position to get on the floor as a backup power forward behind rookie Lauri Markkanen.

If the Bulls were smart, they’d probably put Pondexter in a room to talk to his teammates about his struggles, especially the two teammates who may have to share the same floor in several weeks.

“The competitive nature of our team has been really terrific and we wouldn't want to trade that for anything,” Pondexter said. “It hurts those two guys aren't here right now. But we love them and we love what they brought to this team.

“I think my age on my ID solidifies me as one of the veterans. When you do things the right way, that's what it means to be a veteran. Show up first, last one there. That's what it means to be a veteran. Establishing myself there and doing things that are right, the guys have followed and listened and embraced me and I love it.”

No word on whether Pondexter got teary-eyed when he got a breakaway steal and dunk for his first points since the 2015 playoffs, when the Pelicans were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Warriors.

“I know I’m going to get emotional on the court later on and probably tear up,” Pondexter said after the morning shootaround. “I told Robin that a thousand times. People don’t know what you’ve been through. There are a lot of times they’re not there besides your close family and friends. I appreciate them carrying me through this whole process.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg can relate to Pondexter, with Hoiberg’s heart ailment cutting his career short. When the Bulls coach speaks about the frailty of the game and how precious things are in the NBA, Pondexter is living, breathing proof.

“I’m really really happy for Quincy. For a time there, his life was in danger with his infection. I know he’s really excited to get his career going again,” Hoiberg said. “I never got that opportunity to get back out there. I tell these guys to cherish it ever day. You never know when it can end. All of a sudden. For Quincy to get this chance, it’s awesome.”

Pondexter, with the straightest of faces, called basketball his “obsession” and he felt happy to get back on the floor, if even for a few minutes.

“I love it to death. It’s my life,” Pondexter said. “Basketball is what got me through it---my family and basketball. It was like, ‘How can I make this story even better? Do I quit?’ No. I watched so many inspirational movies, 'Hacksaw Ridge.' They get you through tough times because you say, ‘That’s going to be me.’ I’m going to be able to inspire someone down the road. That’s really helped me.”

A hamstring injury slowed Pondexter in training camp, which would explain his lack of explosive lift in the season opener.

No one was really sure if the Bulls would hold onto him for the season, but it’s clear he holds value beyond the box score. When he finished his media session, Lopez turned to Pondexter and said, “Now you’re stuck with me”, putting his arm around his teammate.

“Being able to play after two and a half years, it feels like hundreds of surgeries, getting traded to this organization. It's been a lot,” Pondexter said. “I wouldn't trade any of that for this moment right now and how I feel in my heart. I can't wait to get on this floor and play with my teammates and try to do something special. The journey is worth it.”