Joakim Noah was an MVP candidate a few seasons ago. Noah was viewed as the most complete defensive anchor and rim protector in the league. Under Tom Thibodeau, Noah and the Chicago Bulls became the most feared team in the NBA due to their defensive prowess.
A few years later, at the start of this season, Noah lost his starting role under new coach Fred Hoiberg. And now, the big man has suffered a season-ending shoulder injury which marks the end of his career with the Bulls.
Noah is an unrestricted free agent next summer. It’s almost a lock that he would sign elsewhere, especially since Hoiberg’s system has failed to accommodate him.
Noah nearly led the Bulls past LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semi-finals last season. Bulls were leading 2-1 in the series before a miraculous shot from James rallied a Cavaliers fightback.
As fans in Chicago prepare to bid adieu to Noah, the Chicago Sun Times summed it up perfectly. “If this is the end for Noah in Chicago, we’re left with memories of a 6-foot-11 center with the stamina of a long-distance runner and the heart of someone who cared, to excess. He saw losing as a personal affront. He saw teammates as brothers. Cliched stuff that also happened to be true.”
The tragic news came Sunday afternoon. An MRI revealed that Noah’s shoulder would require surgery and an extended period of prohibition. “It’s tough. Jo, he’s such a passionate kid. A big-time leader of this team. He has so much energy – even when he wasn’t playing, he was always keeping guys’ spirits up being around here, and I know he’ll continue to do that,” coach Hoiberg said after the Bulls suffered a loss to Dallas Mavericks.
One thing is for certain. The Bulls are not going to go very far in the playoffs this season. And Noah’s good friend and teammate, Pau Gasol, knows what his team will miss going forward. “It’s a tough one to swallow. Jo (Noah) brings a lot to our team, a lot of energy, great spirit, great competitiveness, intensity. It’s hard to accept the news. But in sports, these things happen. It’s unfortunate. It can happen to anyone. I’m sorry it happened to him,” said Gasol.
Joakim Noah can explore a number of options for next season. The Los Angeles Lakers, the Portland Trailblazers and the Orlando Magic are all talked about as possible destinations.