After nine seasons with the Chicago Bulls, Joakim Noah will sign for someone else this offseason. The free agent center has a number of suitors, with the New York Knicks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Washington Wizards the first in line.
Noah played in only 29 games last season. It wasn’t just the injury that made it a miserable campaign. The arrival of Fred Hoiberg to the sidelines, replacing Tom Thibodeau, meant that Noah became a bench player after being a full time starter from his third season in Chicago. He started just twice out of 29 games, his minutes dropping to just 21.9 per game. He finished with just 4.3 points a night while shooting a career-worst 38.3% from the field. His per minute numbers dropped, and the development of him becoming a player who is less and less involved offensively continued.
Noah initially said he’s willing to go with Hoiberg’s idea of pairing him up with Taj Gibson off the bench, but grew unhappy when he saw he’s not getting the minutes he’s used to, and finding his place in the lineup again. When this happens in a contract year, players are less patient about changes and the process. Noah’s injury was part of the Bulls disappointing season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008, Noah’s rookie season. But it also marked his departure from the team.
Noah peaked in 2014, averaging 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. He won the defensive player of the year award and made the All-NBA first team. Next season his minutes dropped by almost 20%, he shot poorly, his decision making on offense became iffy and the Bulls became less and less reliant on a player who was their main playmaker in 2013-2014. The return of Derrick Rose had something to do with it, but not just. Noah and Rose are friends, and Rose has been recruiting him to sign with the Knicks ever since the trade that sent him there.
Noah, who when healthy is probably one of the best defensive centers in the NBA, capable of protecting the rim and doing wonderfully on switches against guards and pick-and-rolls, isn’t going to get the max deal he was probably hoping for, as it’s hard to see a team throwing this much money at a player who might not get 30 minutes a night. But a lot of teams, especially the Knicks now that they’ve sent Robin Lopez away, are hoping for someone to rally around defensively.
The same can be said for the Minnesota Timberwolves, who would like to give Karl-Anthony Towns a strong partner in the paint, and the same can be said of the Washington Wizards, who sorta lost their identity on defense last season, missing the playoffs. Noah has his options to choose from, and will leave the Bulls for nothing, after they had a number of opportunities over the last two or three years to trade him, but decided not to, thinking he was an integral part of their future.