PHILADELPHIA—First he wasn’t starting, then he still wasn't, then he was. And finally, Joakim Noah was out altogether, a late scratch for the Bulls after being slated as a surprise starter, yet another late wrinkle from Fred Hoiberg in this early season.
After Hoiberg repeated he wasn’t making lineup changes, the starting five released 15 minutes before gametime showed Noah in the pivot spot alongside Pau Gasol—until he began the game on the bench in full warmups.
Well, Noah’s surgically repaired left knee began acting up right as the Bulls were going through their customary warm-ups, and Noah could no longer ignore the pain that had been bothering him all day.
Nikola Mirotic started in his place and scored 20 points and 10 rebounds, ending a mini-slump where he couldn’t hit much of anything for three games.
“Last minute. I was thinking about it,” Noah said. “It’s been bothering me since this morning, I don’t think it’s too serious. I think I made the right decision.”
The knee is certainly enough to give observers pause, considering it’s the reason he went from top-four MVP vote getter in 2014 to the hobbling, painful-to-watch player who gamely went out there every night last season, but he said he doesn’t believe he’s in need of an MRI and he doesn’t believe it’ll be a long-term concern.
“I didn’t know. You don’t plan on these things,” Noah said. “I didn’t expect it. I’d been feeling great until this point. It just happened. I don’t think it’s too serious. I just have to be smart. I definitely wanted to play tonight.”
Playing it safe, eight games in against a team that was winless, the Bulls didn’t want to take the extra risk—especially with Noah’s recent history, as the knee was a point of consternation last season, the reason he was placed under a minute restriction that then-coach Tom Thibodeau bristled at.
“Just came back and decided it would be best,” Hoiberg said. “It wasn’t one particular move. Just soreness in his knee. Doesn’t sound like anything structurally wrong. Just a precautionary move.
“He went out and warmed up and felt a little soreness in his knee. So we were precautionary, decided it would be best to hold him out tonight. Hopefully he’ll be fine. We’ll re-evaluate him in the morning.
“Doesn’t sound like the staff is concerned about it. We’ll get back home and see tomorrow.”
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It surely made Hoiberg re-think things for a quick second, especially considering he’s so very coy about. His best offensive unit had been getting off to slow starts, and wanting to insert Noah back as a starter could’ve signed some kind of sea change with Hoiberg—if Noah was healthy.
Many certainly remember the miscommunication between Noah and Hoiberg as far as Hoiberg saying Noah volunteered going to the bench before the season began, a notion Noah openly denied.
But when Noah was asked if it was important to him to be back in the starting lineup, no matter if it was a one-night engagement or opportunity to re-assert himself back in a prominent position, he took the same team-first approach he’s been taking ever since the change was made.
“It’s really not about that right now,” Noah said. “I’m just trying to be healthy and help the team. It’s not what this team’s about.”