Even three teams removed, Joakim Noah will always be associated with the Bulls.
That connection is even easier — dare we say stronger? — now that Billy Donovan serves as head coach. Noah served as Donovan's emotional leader and starting big man on back-to-back NCAA champions at University of Florida, and Noah is still signing his former coach's praises.
The Bulls have far more pressing roster needs than a sentimental signing of Noah to be the Bulls' version of the Miami Heat's Udonis Haslem. That cumbersome Cristiano Felício contract doesn't help either.
And technically, Noah isn't fully a free agent anyway since he signed a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers during the NBA hiatus that has a non-guarantee for the 2021 season that the Clippers haven't acted on yet.
But if nothing else, it certainly sounds like Noah is eyeing to plant some post-career roots in Chicago.
"He's actually talked about coming back and doing charity work for the Bulls, maybe later in his career," Donovan said this week. "I think he's probably going to evaluate what the next step for himself is as a player. I think he's probably looking at that right now, what that looks like with the Clippers."
Donovan said he spoke to Noah on Wednesday. Noah's Arc Foundation kept a footprint in Chicago, including Noah participating in a peace march and block party here in August 2018.
"We talked for a while. He had unbelievable things to say about the city of Chicago. He had incredible things to say about the organization," Donovan said of his Wednesday phone call with Noah. "He obviously spent the majority of his career in Chicago, loved every minute of it. But I'm obviously close to him and he's a great guy and great competitor. He's got an unbelievable heart and a caring guy and I think just even besides coming to Chicago now with the Bulls, I heard him speak so favorably about the organization and the city while he was here.
"He loves the Bulls and loves Chicago, so probably earlier on when he first got drafted by Chicago, I knew pretty early on while I was still in college of what a special place Chicago is, was. Not only from the Bulls' organizational standpoint, but just from a city and what it meant for him to play for the Bulls."
Could it happen some day again? Never say never in the NBA.