Joakim Noah will begin Tuesday night's season opener against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers from an unfamiliar spot. The bench.
In a move predicted by many in the offseason that played out over the course of training camp and preseason, Fred Hoiberg's decision to start Nikola Mirotic over Noah to better balance the first and second units is something the 2013 NBA Defensive Player of the Year and two-time All-Star has agreed to without reluctance.
"He didn’t have to sell me anything," Noah said. "I want to win. This makes our team our better. We have a lot of talent, a lot of talent up front. Sacrifices need to be made sometimes. This gives us the best chance for our team."
Noah has come off the bench in 80 of his 603 career games, though 68 of those came in the first two years of his career. The most recent 12 times - 10 in 2009-10 and two in 2012-13 - were byproducts of the Bulls big man returning from injury. In fact, Noah last came off the bench for a non-injury related reason on Jan. 12, 2009, a span of 490 games (including playoffs).
Noah's lack of floor balance playing alongside Pau Gasol was oft-criticized last season, and on media day a fully healthy Noah chalked up much of that imbalance to the injured knee he was playing on the majority of the campaign, when he averaged just 7.2 points on a career-worst 44.5 percent shooting and 9.6 rebounds.
Noah said at that time he wanted another chance to prove he could play with Gasol on the starting unit, but in Hoiberg's up-tempo, 3-point-happy offense starting the stretch forward Mirotic made far more sense. It will pair Noah with Taj Gibson on the second unit, a move Noah believes will make the team better from top to bottom.
"Hopefully both," Noah said with a smile when asked whether his move made the first or second team better.
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It's a situation not dissimilar from one Gibson, Noah's now-frontcourt partner, has dealt with much of his career. Gibson started 70 games his rookie season only to see the Bulls sign Carlos Boozer to a five-year, $76 million deal the following offseason. And when the Bulls used the Amnesty provision on Boozer prior to the 2014-15 season, freeing the power forward position up for Gibson to start, they signed Pau Gasol to a three-year deal in his place.
Gibson's acceptance of his role on the second unit - he's started just 49 games the last five years as a fill-in for various starters' injuries - has helped Noah with the adjustment. Now it's on Noah to work together with Gibson and the rest of the reserves to gain chemistry as the season progresses.
"He’s definitely sacrificed a lot for this organization," Noah said of Gibson. "For us to get to where we want to get to, everybody’s going to have to play well and we’re going to have to gel fast."