Bulls

Declining to address future Joakim Noah declares he will 'bounce back'

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Declining to address future Joakim Noah declares he will 'bounce back'

Fresh off season-ending shoulder surgery, Joakim Noah left the door open to a return to the Bulls in free agency but seemed resigned to the diagnosis of the procedure ending his 2015-16 season.

“It’s not easy, you know? It’s very humbling to go through injuries as an athlete,” said Noah in his return to the Advocate Center for Bulls practice Tuesday. “You prepare yourself for a long season and then you get hurt. It’s part of it. It’s tough but I’ll bounce back.”

Noah won’t accompany the team on the seven-game road trip that’ll take the Bulls one game away from the All-Star break, but he plans to be visible with his teammates through his rehab. Noah underwent surgery to repair his dislocated left shoulder and the outlook calls for a 4-6 month process, essentially ending the season.

“I’m not thinking about the future at all,” Noah said. “Just trying to focus on getting my shoulder right. I’m a week removed, it’s tough, I wanna be out there, I wanna compete. But it’s not my reality.”

[MORE BULLS: Tom Thibodeau on Bulls without Joakim Noah - 'They can get this done']

Doctors said there’s a good chance Noah has a full recovery and his arm was in a sling after going through some rehab exercises with the training staff.

Repeatedly saying “I just had surgery a week ago” whenever queries came up about trying to come back or anything revolving around free agency, Noah still feels very connected to his teammates and offered his observations on the team’s struggles before going out west.

The Bulls lost their fourth straight home game to the Miami Heat Monday, a rarity in the Noah era.

“I think the mindset is good. Just gotta keep building, still gotta figure things out, with rotations, guys in and out of lineups,” Noah said. “But overall it’s a healthy group. It’s exciting. We’ve lost games we should’ve won. Won a lot of big games this year. So even though it’s up and down there’s still a lot of hope and we’re still trying to figure it out. It’s a long process.”

Noah strained the shoulder right before Christmas, missed nine games and four games into his return, the shoulder popped out while being tangled up with Dallas’ JaVale McGee. Almost everyone who heard Noah yell out in pain immediately knew his season was done.

[MORE BULLS: What's next for Joakim Noah, Bulls after season-ending shoulder surgery]

Embracing the reality hasn’t been an easy one, and the season to date before the injury was arguably the toughest of his career.

“This is all I know,” Noah said. “I’ve been here nine years, I’ve been injured before. Maybe not this situation but yeah, I’m looking forward to being around the guys.”

Being relegated to a bench role dulled his affect, all the while facing the prospect of free agency in the off-season made for a delicate situation for both Noah and coach Fred Hoiberg.

When asked if he would consider a return to the Bulls, Noah diplomatically left the door open but no one knows how either side feels about the other in regards to the future—and Noah added he can’t think too much about that right now, anyways.

“I hope so. Right now I’m not trying to focus on the future,” Noah said. “I just had season-ending surgery last week. But this is all I know. Looking forward to seeing what guys are doing. It’s all about taking a step back, focus on getting healthy and going from there.”

[SHOP: Buy a Joakim Noah jersey]

Certainly in a melancholy mood, his spirits opened up when talking about the Bulls’ rousing win in Cleveland over the weekend. After all, Noah has taken shots at Cleveland through the years and couldn’t resist getting one more jab in.

“I liked the win in Cleveland. Liked it a lot. Liked that one a lot,” Noah said.

When asked what he liked about it specifically, he finally let loose.

“I thought we executed well, just good to see that crowd be (so) upset,” Noah said. “They never thought we would win. Everyone’s (bleeped) off that night. Helped me sleep better.”

How Jabari Parker impacts Bulls’ salary cap in 2019

How Jabari Parker impacts Bulls’ salary cap in 2019

The Bulls ‘rebuild’ seems to be just a one-year experiment after the team signed Chicago native Jabari Parker to a two-year, $40-million dollar deal on Saturday. Although on first look Parker’s contract would seem to restrict what they can do in free agency next summer, the reality is that the 2nd year team option gives the Bulls plenty of flexibility with—or without- Parker next year.  

If the Bulls pick up the option on Parker, they will still be able to sign a max free agent next July if they make the right moves between now and July 1, 2019.

The NBA projects the 2019-20 cap will rise to $109 million, up from $101.9 million for the upcoming season. The league bases a ‘max’ salary on years of service. A 10-year vet like Kevin Durant is eligible for more ($38.2 million) than his teammate Klay Thompson ($32.7 million), an 8-year vet. If the Bulls keep Parker, they’ll enter free agency with approximately $15.4 million next summer—far short of the cap space needed for a player like Durant or Thompson, but that number is misleading. The $15.4 million also includes cap holds (salary slots assigned to a player based on several factors including previous year’s salary). The cap hold is designed to prevent teams from completely circumventing the soft cap model the league uses. The cap holds for Bobby Portis ($7.5 million) and Cameron Payne ($9.8 million) are just theoretical if the Bulls don’t sign either to a contract extension before the October 31, 2018 deadline. 

Let’s say the Bulls are in line to sign a star free agent like Thompson; all they would need to do is rescind any qualifying offer to Payne or Portis, and then renounce them as free agents. This would effectively take the cap holds off the Bulls’ cap sheet and give them approximately $32.7 million in cap space. Coincidently (or perhaps it’s no coincidence), that’s the exact salary a 7-9 year free agent like Thompson would command.

In order to create enough space for Durant and his increased ‘max’ slot, they would need to waive and stretch a player like Cristiano Felicio or incentivize a trade involving a player by attaching another asset in the deal, like a future 1st round pick.

If the Bulls decline the team option on Parker, then they will enter free agency with anywhere between $35 million and $53 million. 

Gar Forman finally comes through on promise

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USA TODAY

Gar Forman finally comes through on promise

"We felt we needed to start getting younger and more athletic..."

It was 2016 when Bulls general manager Gar Forman made this statement, drawing ire from many Bulls fans for what felt like—at the time—a disingenuous statement. A swap of Derrick Rose for Robin Lopez, Jose Calderon and Jerian Grant making you younger and athletic? No one was buying it.

But fast forward to July, 2018, and it is clear that at the very least, Forman has finally made good on his promise. The signing of Jabari Parker has been met with mostly positivity, as a short-term commitment to a former No. 2 overall pick is something that is difficult to hate. But when you factor in the rest of the pieces currently on the roster, it is OK for Bulls fans to be downright giddy over the future.

Lauri Markkanen is 21 years old, Wendell Carter Jr. is 19, Zach LaVine is 23, Jabari Parker is 23 and Kris Dunn is the elder statesmen of the group at 24 years old. If these five become the starting group moving forward, as expected, it would represent one of the youngest starting groups in the league with an average age of 22. 

And athleticism can be checked off the list as well. We know Markkanen has hopsLaVine showed off the explosiveness he was known for last season and Dunn had some dunks last year that legitimately gave fans a Rose flashback

Markkanen and Carter Jr. have both flashed the ability to switch onto guards for a limited amount of time and guard in space, a huge component of any defense that wants to switch a lot. And it also is the type of athleticism that is much more important at their position.

At this stage, Parker represents the biggest question mark athletically speaking. Despite his young age, the two ACL injuries make you wonder if there is any room for him to improve his agility. But at the least, Parker can drive to the basket and finish over the top with authority, even if his defense doesn't catch up.

So, Bulls fans are starting to become intrigued with this roster.

Fred Hoiberg wants his teams to play an up-tempo game, and last season was the first year during Hoiberg's Bulls tenure where the team actually ranked in the top 10 in pace. So if you have followed the Bulls carefully since Thibodeau's departure, you see a front-office that supports their new head coach, yet wasted a couple years to commit fully to his vision, and to a direction for the franchise.

But the point is Forman finally chose a direction.

The Bulls have a young core, and financial flexibility moving forward. And for all the jokes the "GarPax" regime have endured over the years, they have put the team in a position to have sustained success if they hit on all the young players they have acquired. 

And if they are wrong in their assessment of their young talent? 

The Bulls would be able to let Parker go, now that we know the second year of his contract is a team option. LaVine's offensive skill set will allow him to still have trade value years from now, as his contract won't look nearly as bad over time. 

And if the Bulls flurry of moves make the team significantly worse in a year where many expect them to take a step forward, all it would mean is being equipped with a high lottery pick in what is shaping up to be a top-heavy 2019 NBA Draft.

So Gar Forman wanted the team to get younger and more athletic, and though it took longer than it should've, the front-office made good on their promise. That is something that Bulls fans can believe in.