Joakim Noah is in a difficult, if not impossible spot this season.
Dealing with a new role, coming off the bench under new coach Fred Hoiberg, all while dealing with his looming free agency and wanting to place himself in the best position for next season and beyond.
He clearly feels like he can do more on the floor, as playing around 20 minutes a game isn’t sitting well with him. But he’s not going to rock the boat. Noah hasn’t before and he won’t do it now that his circumstances have changed.
“I don’t talk contract and I don’t talk future,” he said, parroting a reporter’s query about blocking the concern out about the future and focusing on his role at Bulls practice on Tuesday.
“How do you? Right now I don’t have a choice, I’m just focused on my improvement, it’s all I can do right now. I think the team’s in the right place," he added. "I’ve always been a team player. I’m not gonna change now.”
[BULLS ROAD AHEAD: Noah, in limited minutes, looking healthy]
And part of being a team-first player is the acknowledgement that he’ll have to split time with a veteran like Pau Gasol, a dependable rebounder and defender like Taj Gibson and someone who the organization is invested in, forward Nikola Mirotic.
Hoiberg rattled off all of Noah’s accomplishments, things Noah has done under previous regimes when he was a much younger player and the team structure was quite different.
And dealing with having an emotional player who holds so much sway in the locker room, coming in and having to diminish his role in such a critical year personally for Noah, is arguably his hardest task in his maiden voyage as an NBA coach.
“We’ve talked about this all along: The biggest issue with us as coaches is going to be our rotations,” Hoiberg said. “It’s not easy because we’ve got a lot of guys who can be effective out there on the floor. You just try to do the best job you can of trying to get the right combinations out there.”
Noah won’t give Hoiberg a bailout on anything, although he’s being as respectful as possible. He recoiled at the thought that playing 20 minutes a night can save his body for a playoff run, a school of thought former coach Tom Thibodeau had no interest in theoretically.
“No. I feel great,” Noah said. “Feel like I’m moving well and I feel healthy.”
He was moving quite well Monday against the San Antonio Spurs, and one could make the case he was the most impactful player on the floor wearing white, which of course begs the question of how Hoiberg should handle this delicate situation.
“He’s our emotional leader,” Hoiberg said. “He’s bringing great energy night in and night out. Doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, whether he’s on the bench cheering for his teammates or on the floor making big plays. But it was fun to see Jo go off like he did.”
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It almost feels like Noah’s special nights are a microcosm of this Bulls’ team as a whole. Both, when actively engaged and emotional, can beat virtually any team in a given night except for Golden State, but predicting which team or which Noah will show up is a bit of a task.
Hoiberg’s changing of Noah’s role assuredly came with the blessing of the front office, and it’s a big part of his philosophy of keeping the floor spread. Before seeing Noah play this season, the idea was in his head.
“You think a lot about that when you watch the film,” Hoiberg said. “We watched all the games from last year. Watched all the different combinations, looked at the numbers for all the different combinations that were out there, and then you make the decision that you feel is best for the team and try to get your guys to go out there and buy in.”