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.”
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.
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.”
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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.”