The Chicago Bulls have likely lost Joakim Noah for the season, which is a tough blow for both him and the team. We decided to get together and talk about where the Bulls go from here as Noah heads into free agency with questions marks surrounding his future. This discussion occurred before, during and after the Bulls’ 111-101 victory over the Detroit Pistons.
Jason Patt: How much does the Noah injury bum you out, and what do you think his future is in Chicago?
Kelly Scaletta: It bums me out a LOT because I just loved having him as a Bull. He was the epitome of the Bulls for almost a decade.
That said, I don’t know how much it affects his future with the Bulls. I honestly don’t think the Bulls keep him either way. He just doesn’t fit Hoiball and the front office has made it clear that’s the direction they’re going. Right or wrong, hate it or love it. That’s the way it is. Noah was probably gone after this season regardless. The only difference is that it’s less likely now the Bulls make a midseason trade.
Jake Weiner: I agree with Kelly. Joakim has been a true joy to root for for the better part of a decade. He’s always played his ass off and kept the fans engaged throughout the darker times. For most of his career, Jo’s been a hell of a player, too. Obviously the last couple seasons have been difficult for him, but I’m hoping he can regain some of his old form in the future.
Unfortunately, that seems unlikely to be on the Bulls. While I think Pau Gasol will opt out and receive more money elsewhere, it’s hard to see the Bulls coming to an agreement with Noah. With the cap set to explode and Noah coming off his worst seasons yet, it will be tough to find a middle ground for a contract number. I’m betting another team will offer Noah more than the Bulls are comfortable. Hopefully they can find a number that works for both sides, because I know Bulls fans would love to have Jo here for life.
Morten Jensen: I’ve been critical of Noah in the past two years due to lack of production, but my critique is probably unfair given that it was an extended frustration of injuries and limitations generally. Because at the end of the day, Noah rocks and does a lot of great things out there. Career-high rebound and assist rate this year, clearly because he knew he was limited in other areas. So instead of trying to become something he wasn’t, he maxed out his strengths. That’s a high IQ player, and I hope he returns this summer. Pending price, of course.
Jason: I’ve been torn on his future with the team. He’s obviously given so much to the franchise and has done so many great things, but he’s a shell of himself and is hurt every year. I’d love to have him back for his leadership and locker-room presence, but you can only pay so much for that. I know I wouldn’t give him a long-term deal, but I’d at least considering something short term, but I’m struggling to settle on a price I’d be willing to offer. What say you on that?
Morten: I wouldn’t do $10 million, and given the injuries, I’d frankly not feel bad offering him a three-year deal starting at $6.5 million. Paying for nostalgia is never smart, and currently Noah is a HUGE question mark. Paying big figures for a guy who may not play more than 60 games on average here on out is just not wise.
Besides…offering him that money would clear money for the guy I want. Nicolas Batum.
Jake: I think Morten threw out a fair number for the Bulls. It would be hard to justify paying Noah $10 million given his obvious limitations and consistent injury issues in recent years. While there is probably a universe where Noah and the Bulls find a middle ground that lets him finish his career out in Chicago, it seems more likely that another team throws Jo an offer that the Bulls won’t want to match.
As far as Batum, I would very much enjoy having him on the Bulls. That’s going to require a maximum contract, though, and I don’t see the Bulls making such a big play for him.
Morten: Let me dream, Jake!
Jason: Yeah, thanks for killing dreams, Jake! Morten and I were daydreaming about the Batum scenario yesterday and I was giddy about it, although I know perfectly well that it almost certainly won’t happen. And it would be even better if they were somehow able to keep Noah and then he could recruit Batum to the Bulls.
A Batum/Butler wing duo just sounds awesome. But yeah, pipe dream, probably.
Kelly: Weirdly, Noah would be a recruiting asset with Batum.
Jake: We’ll use the France angle to keep the dream alive! Let’s say Noah and Batum sign elsewhere, and Gasol decides to do the same. What should the Bulls’ plan be?
Jason: So in this case, I guess the options would be to try to bring Noah back on a discount and then use the leftover money for a good but not top wing player (Bazemore? Afflalo? Somebody else?), or try to use all the cap space to go after a guy like Hassan Whiteside? It’s tough because if Noah and Gasol are gone you obviously need a center. But they really do need help on the wing as well. Whiteside is really intriguing, but I’m leery of max money for him.
Kelly: So we’re giving up on Tony Sell?
Jason: Snell will probably score 20 this afternoon now (He did not come close).
Jake: How easily can the Bulls wrangle together max contract space this summer? I do not want to be the team paying Whiteside max money, but you may as well test the waters on Al Horford and Kevin Durant (lol).
Jason: If they let Noah and Gasol walk they’re pretty close, and they could also look at maybe shipping Mike Dunleavy off to open up that max slot. I wouldn’t totally be opposed to doing all that, as I’m at the point where I think they probably need a bit of a reset anyway and they could look to bring in some younger guys who may fit Hoiball better.
Kelly: What Jason said. If you’re going to give Fred the reins, you might as well give him the horses to pull the cart.
Jake: Going younger makes the most sense. We know the Bulls like going for big names (Gasol, Boozer, many other failed pursuits), but the smartest play would be to try and find value contracts on rotation players instead. If the Bulls do open up significant space, they can really stock the rotation if they target the right guys. Last season, Cory Joseph, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, Al-Farouq Aminu and many others were snagged for great value early in the free agency period. The Bulls should try and find one of those deals.
Jason: I mentioned Bazemore before. I don’t know how much he gets, but that seems like a name to target. Can slot in on the wing and shoot the 3. He’s having a great year and seems like he’d be a fit.
Morten: If Batum is a no-go, Bazemore would be my second guy. Clearly fits into this system given his athleticism and shooting ability, and having played for Budenholzer kind of helps, too.
Kelly: The team that pays more to Bazemore will daze more.
Jason: WHAT ARE YOU GETTING AT KELLY?!
Kelly: Should I says more?
Jake: I am also hesitant to buy in on Kent Bazemore until he plays more. He was bad as recently as last season.
(Yes, that plays more joke was on purpose. Dang it, Kelly.)
Jason: Kelly always out here trying to pun things up, smh.
Anyway, he’s definitely not perfect and you worry about CONTRACT YEAR, but I’d definitely still look into him. Be wary of overpaying for sure, but I like the idea of him at least if this is who he is now.
Kelly: Bazemore is a classic case of “Is it contract year or real?” It’s not that long ago we knew him for bench celebrations more than on-court stuff. And Budenholzer is fantastic at getting people to fit his system.
Morten: I guess that’s fair skepticism, but looking at his physical tools, and ability to stroke the three, I’m fairly confident that he won’t go all Eddie Robinson on us.
Jason: Looking at this rest of this season, what do you see happening? Kelly said this Noah injury probably means a trade is less likely, and that would be my guess as well. But I still think long and hard about shopping Pau Gasol (he had 31 points on Monday) in advance of his free agency. Of course, that would basically mean “giving up” on the season, and I doubt the front office does that.
Morten: I have no problem with trading Pau, even considering the Noah injury. If that means “giving up,” then so be it. This is a team that’s fundamentally flawed and won’t sniff the Finals anyway, so if there is an alternative that sets them back a year, but in which they get younger for next season, I’m all aboard.
Question is though: What can you get for Pau? I reckon Memphis would be more interested in anyone else. But even so, it’s not much.
Jake: Where is the idea that Memphis is interested in Pau coming from? I don’t get that at all. The fit makes no sense outside of “GASOL BROS SWEET.” Isn’t their problem that they’re old and slow?
Not trying to call out Morten specifically — I’ve actually heard the Memphis-Pau buzz in a few places.
Jason: I think the idea is maybe that Pau has a short list of teams he’d re-sign with and maybe Memphis is one of those teams because of his brother?
Morten: It’s not just coming from the nostalgia angle, but also via the fact that Memphis quite frankly is lacking talent and is in complete win-now mode. Gasol fits that criteria pretty well.
Kelly: I think it’s probably just a brother thing invented by fans.
Morten: He does fit their game plan. It’s a low-tempo offense that’s predicated on lots of mid-range shots and opportunities at the rim. His passing game, too, would fit in flawlessly.
Kelly: Meanwhile, the Bulls are getting trucked by the Pistons (Chicago was down 13 at this point).
Morten: This would mark the third loss of the season to Detroit if they drop this (again, they did not). And honestly, this is what concerns me. The Pistons are decent, but no world-beaters, and they’ve given the Bulls major problems. It’s games and matchups like those that casts doubt, in my eyes, as to Chicago’s championship aspirations for this year.
Can we all agree the Bulls are pretenders and not contenders?
Kelly: When they play well, they can compete. But I think it’s a 99.98 percent certainty the title will be won by San Antonio, Golden State or Cleveland with the other .02 percent going to OKC (so simmer down Kevin!). Everyone else are just pretenders.
But the Bulls are capable of being as good as anyone in the cesspool…erp…pool. They’re also capable of blowing chunks against the Sixers. I think I’ve given up on this season being anything interesting from the perspective of a Bulls fan. They’re also-rans…if that.
Jason: The Bulls will certainly put up a fight in the postseason, and they’ve proven they can compete and beat good teams, but I just can’t see them being consistent enough to make serious noise. Maybe they reach the ECF, but it’d take a miracle to reach the Finals.
Morten: Consider this for a moment. It’s been half a decade since the Bulls last made the Eastern Conference Finals. I feel old.
Jason: Ha, that’s not THAT long compared to some things, though. Still a bummer considering what it looked like we were in store for after 2010-11.
To finish this off on perhaps a somewhat happier note (although still kind of sad), let’s hear your favorite Noah moment.
Kelly: Mine was the newspaper guy quote. I still can’t read that without tearing up.
Morten: The steal-and-jam off Paul Pierce for me:
Jake: “I mean, does anyone actually like Cleveland?”
Morten: “I’ve never heard someone say ‘I’m going to Cleveland for vacation.’ What’s so good about Cleveland?”
Oh man. That was fun:
Kelly: His riff on Garnett was pretty hilarious, too.
That’s the thing about Noah, we love him as much for things he’s said as anything. Dude’s made me laugh AND cry. Literally!!!
Jason: Ha, so true. So many great things he’s said/done off the court.
The Noah dunk over Pierce is my greatest individual moment, but his Game 7 effort against the Nets on one leg was downright heroic:
And oh, look, the Bulls somehow actually beat the Pistons today. I’m sure this means they’re okay now.