Bulls

Bulls' Joakim Noah accepting of bench role: 'I want to win'

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Bulls' Joakim Noah accepting of bench role: 'I want to win'

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).

[MORE: Hoiberg not worried about pressure in season opener vs. LeBron, Cavs]

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.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

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."

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

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USA TODAY

2018-19 NBA Power Rankings: Opening Week edition

The theme of the 2018-19 NBA season will be: “old faces in new places”. Like a season-long game of the NBA on TNT crew’s “Who he play for?” game, this year will be about fans trying to get used to the idea of LeBron James in purple (I won’t call it ‘Forum Blue’)-and-gold, DeMarcus Cousins being on a championship-contending franchise and Kawhi Leonard being the new face of Toronto.

The Warriors are still the easy favorite to make it four NBA championships in five years, but they will be tested perhaps more than any year before in a loaded Western Conference, where even the lowliest of teams (here’s to you Phoenix and Memphis!) made solid offseason moves geared towards winning games.

Over in the now-LeBron-less East, there is hope amongst at least four-to-five teams that they could actually have a shot to win the conference. The Pacers still have budding superstar Victor Oladipo, the Sixers still have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and the Raptors and Bucks made head coaching changes that could lead to deep playoff runs. But with the rest of the Eastern conference being stuck between lottery contention and middle of the pack, expect the half-experienced, half-youthful Celtics to takeover as East juggernaut.

But whether or not your favorite franchise is aiming for a high draft pick or a postseason berth, there is tons to be excited in a 2018-19 NBA season that will surely be an intriguing one. Check out Week 1 of our NBA Power Rankings right here.

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

Deadline passes as Bulls, Bobby Portis fail to reach agreement on contract extension

The Bulls and Bobby Portis were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension by today’s deadline, which will make the power forward a restricted free agent next offseason.

According to The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, Portis’ agent Mark Bartelstein and Gar Forman had “lengthy face-to-face negotiations” on Monday prior to the deadline. The two sides weren’t able to come to an agreement.

The negotiations – and lack of a deal – come after a summer and training camp in which Portis continued to show progression. After beginning the preseason coming off the bench Portis quickly played his way into the starting lineup alongside rookie Wendell Carter Jr. Portis finished five preseason games averaging 17.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals in just 22.4 minutes.

Portis, the 22nd pick of the 2015 NBA Draft, has seen his role increase each of his three seasons. He made a jump last season in Year 3, averaging 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in 22.5 minutes. He was one of three players, including DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love, to average 21 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 3-pointers per 36 minutes.

Though the Bulls certainly had the room to sign Portis to an extension, there were obvious reasons on both sides to wait on a deal. For starters, the Bulls will still be able to match any deal Portis receives in free agency next July, much like what happened with Zach LaVine and the Sacramento Kings. The Bulls maintain their abundance of cap space for the 2019 offseason, when they’ll be able to offer a max contract to the top-tier free agents, and they get to see if Portis makes another jump.

For Portis, it’s a case of him betting on himself. If the Bulls came in with a number he wasn’t satisfied with – to help keep their max cap space – he now finds himself on a contract year playing for his next contract. Still only 23 years old, Portis should cash in in July.

Two players from Portis’ draft class were able to cash in. Pacers center Myles Turner signed a reported four-year, $80 million extension and Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. agreed to a four-year, $45 million deal. Portis likely would have fallen somewhere in between those two deals had an agreement occurred.

The Bulls are hardly in an easy situation with Portis. Though they value the versatile power forward, Lauri Markkanen is entrenched at the position for the foreseeable future and the team just spent last year’s No. 7 overall pick on center Wendell Carter Jr. Portis realistically is stuck behind both those players, though he certainly has starting level NBA talent.