The Bulls are facing life without Joakim Noah for the short term, and maybe for the long term, writes K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. Noah will be out of action for the next four to six months after being diagnosed with a dislocated shoulder Saturday. He will also become an unrestricted free agent this summer for the first time in his career, leaving his future in Chicago in doubt.
Even though the nine-year veteran’s role with the team has been reduced this season — and the Bulls have an 8-2 record in games he has missed — Johnson relayed that Noah’s teammates were somber as they struggled with the news. “It’s tough to lose a guy like Jo,” Jimmy Butler said. “He does so much for us. Forget basketball. You hate to see that happen to a good person. He’s down, as he should be. He wants to play for this team.”
The injury should alert GM Gar Forman and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson that it’s time to shake up the roster, contends Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com. The loss of Noah diminishes the Bulls as a contender this season, and Friedell believes it’s time to focus on the future. That includes finding a taker for Pau Gasol, who has a player option for next season and is expected to enter free agency this summer.
Noah’s injury likely means more playing time for promising rookie Bobby Portis, but that won’t solve the Bulls’ more pressing problems, according to Bradford Doolittle of ESPN.com (Insider only). While Portis can expect to become part of the rotation, Doolittle cautions that it’s not clear how he fits in. Starting him alongside Gasol creates a poor defensive lineup, as does bringing him off the bench with Nikola Mirotic. Starting Taj Gibson next to Gasol leads to a problem with floor spacing. Doolittle also believes defensive woes will end the experiment of starting Mirotic at small forward.
On top of that, Butler and Derrick Rose are playing hurt, and nobody is certain when Mike Dunleavy Jr. will return from his back troubles. Doolittle writes that some of those concerns could have been alleviated by trading Noah for help at the wing. He says the Bulls need to hold onto Gasol to be a factor in this year’s playoffs, while Mirotic and Portis have team-friendly contracts that Chicago’s front office would probably prefer to keep.
A different view comes from Sam Smith of Bulls.com, who argues that it’s too early to write off Noah’s future in Chicago. Smith thinks the injury presents an opportunity for both sides to hammer out a short-term extension with less competition from other teams.