Bulls: Joakim Noah, Fred Hoiberg in delicate positions


Bulls: Joakim Noah, Fred Hoiberg in delicate positions

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.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

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.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: Getting to know the Bulls Outsiders team; bold predictions for this season

NBC Sports Chicago

Bulls Talk Podcast: Getting to know the Bulls Outsiders team; bold predictions for this season

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, the Bulls Outsiders team of Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine join Kevin Anderson to talk about the series premier of ‘Bulls Outsiders’ Thursday night. Hear about how the show came together and what they are hoping to bring to the Bulls fanbase this season. They’ll also share their bold predictions for the season including two potential end-of-season award winners from this roster.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Kris Dunn thinks Zach LaVine could be 'a good defender in this league'

Kris Dunn thinks Zach LaVine could be 'a good defender in this league'

We all know what Zach LaVine is capable of doing on the offensive side of things. But what about his defense?

It's no secret that LaVine has had his fair share of struggles on defense, but Kris Dunn thinks highly of his 23-year-old teammate and what his potential is at the other end.

"On the defensive end I just told him, 'You're as fast as me. You're more athletic than me. There's no way you shouldn't be a good defender in this league. You could be one of those guys who could be dynamic in the passing lanes because you're so athletic and fast.'" Dunn said of LaVine. "And personally, I like to score. If you get in a passing lane, that's a dunk for yourself and because you've got so much bounce that's when you get the crowd on their feet — maybe do a windmill, a 360, something.

"But I think he's been going a good job on the defensive end. It's not going to be easy. We all got to learn and I think we're all trying."

Improving his defense would obviously be a big step forward for LaVine (and the Bulls), and he knows it. 

“I think I had a lot better focus on the defensive end,” LaVine said when assessing his preseason. “I had some mistakes too, but I wanted to go out there and just really hone in on being more focused down there. I felt like I did OK with that. Still some areas I want to get better at, definitely off-the-ball I think I did a lot better than I had before.’’

LaVine and the Bulls travel to Philadelphia to face the 76ers on Thursday night in their season opener. You can watch Bulls Pre- and Postgame Live on NBC Sports Chicago before and after the game for highlights and analysis.