In an effort to become a more up-tempo and offensive powered team, the Chicago Bulls hired Fred Hoiberg to be their coach this past offseason. In an effort to jump-start the process, Hoiberg took away Joakim Noah's starting center position and tried to get smaller and quicker with the Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic big-man duo. There have been some mixed results, but the idea always seemed to be that Noah would buy in because he's a great teammate. He has to a degree, but his competitive streak also creates potential issues with a move like that.
Noah wants to start and he wants to play. That's not happening under Hoiberg, or at least not to the degree that would seem to placate Noah. Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that Noah still hasn't gotten over losing his starting position and isn't the biggest fan of his coach. The Bulls were reportedly hoping winning would make some of this potential animosity subside, but that's not the situation.
A source said on Tuesday morning that Noah remains unhappy with his current standing in the organization, and “still hasn’t moved past losing his starting job’’ late in training camp. The source went onto say that Noah “hasn’t been a distraction by any means, but isn’t the biggest [coach Fred] Hoiberg fan these days.’’
This is not the first time that this has been brought up this season, with Noah feeling like he would be better served as a starter or at least on the court more often in crunch-time.
Privately, the Bulls have hoped that winning games would cure a lot of Noah’s woes, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case. It also didn’t help that the Bulls went 7-2 without Noah during a recent shoulder injury, and that he’s been the subject of trade talk.
The risk in this situation is that Noah is in the final year of his contract and sticking around after this year doesn't seem likely if he's not going to be able to start for the Bulls. It doesn't seem like Hoiberg is all that interested in starting Noah at any point, considering he's started just one of the 26 games in which he's played this year. Noah could be a very useful starting center for several teams looking to contend and considering Tyson Chandler just got a big four-year deal at the age of 32, Noah turning 31 before he hits free agency likely won't deter teams with a lot of cap space to spend.
Noah is playing the fewest minutes per game (22.2) since his rookie season (20.7). He's rebounding well but he's a turnover machine when he's out there and he's shooting 38.3 percent from the field this season, which is unacceptable for most guards let alone centers. The Bulls haven't been able to generate much offense with Noah on the floor (98.3 on, 102.4 off) but the defense has been about a half point per 100 possessions better when Noah plays. He simply doesn't fit the pace and space style that Hoiberg seems to be hoping to become a staple of Bulls basketball.
Considering the odd fit and the impending free agency, would the Bulls consider moving Noah before the trade deadline passes? Or do you roll the dice and hope he buys into creating an identity with the second unit for the Bulls? The risk of trying to show Noah what life could be like as a Sixth Man big man probably means you have to make the conference finals and put up a good enough fight against Cleveland that Noah simply can't walk away this summer. That seems possible in the East but the East is also so cluttered right now that perhaps that's hoping for too much.
Regardless of what the Bulls end up doing with Noah, it will totally be up to him over the next few months for how he decides to respond to this reported growing frustration and where that takes him in the next chapter of his career.