The season ending injury Joakim Noah sustained isn’t just a problem for the Chicago Bulls in terms of what they can achieve this season. He was probably their best option for a trade as we approach the deadline and now, with expiring contracts not meaning all that much this season, he’s unmovable.
From the Noah perspective, this has been a disastrous season. On a contract year he lost his spot in the starting lineup, posting awful numbers while playing, especially offensively. He scored only 4.3 points while shooting 38.3% from the field, playing just 21.9 minutes a night. And it’s not that he was healthy all the time, missing 10 games so far this season. His scoring per minute and overall his offensive contribution, he was at a career low. And maybe the biggest difference: His defense was no longer special, as the Bulls were slightly better without him on the court.
Not having Noah, assuming everyone else is healthy, does help with the minutes distribution problems Fred Hoiberg had among his big men. Pau Gasol, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and a little bit of Bobby Portis. But Gasol and Mirotic are a defensive problem while Gibson has his obvious limitations on offense. Portis has been inconsistent to say the least, and with Mike Dunleavy not coming back any time soon, giving Doug McDermott minutes at the ‘4’, despite his improvement this season, is out of the question.
Does this kill the Bulls’ chances of having an impact on the NBA playoffs and possibly the title run? They probably weren’t going to have one even with Noah. In the past, we’ve seen the Bulls rally to the cause due to an injury, often being Derrick Rose. But this team under Hoiberg isn’t the combative unit from the previous years, with Thibodeau losing his “magical” touch last season. Hoiberg isn’t going to scream his players into a new level of playing. It’s going to come from them, but a pretty solid team seems exactly that, and nothing more.
So Noah has probably played his final game for the Bulls, but what about the rest of his career? He’s making $13.4 million on the final year of his deal. After two bad seasons and a four-to-six months shoulder injury, where does that leave him on the free agency market? Well, he might not lose out on too much money compared to what he’s making now, but it’s not going to be the contract he possibly thought of when this season began.
The inconsistent Bulls will remain just that. Four straight wins, two losses, and overall staying in the upper half of the playoff picture, but never looking like a serious threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Unless Jimmy Butler has a lot more nights like the one he had against the Philadelphia 76ers, Derrick Rose stops hurting and finds that form everyone keeps waiting for and the defense sorts itself out, it’s hard seeing the Bulls doing anything worth mentioning beyond the conference semifinals, and even that’s a bit of a stretch considering how they’re playing right now.