LOS ANGELES — All-Star center Joakim Noah’s on-court contributions obviously have a lot to do with the Bulls’ ability to stay afloat in the wake of Derrick Rose’s season-ending knee injury and more recently, the trade of longtime teammate Luol Deng to Cleveland.
Noah’s value also goes beyond his defensive presence, rebounding presence and uncanny playmaking, though he often downplays his leadership ability. However, there’s been a noticeable difference in his demeanor, particularly behind the scenes and even after emotional occurrences—such as his media freeze-out after Deng was traded, followed by his thoughtful response when he finally addressed the press on the subject—something his coaches and teammates vouched for.
“A lot of growth,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Overall, from the start of the season, I think it’s part of his experience. He’s older now, he knows there’s more responsibility on his shoulders and so, it’s not necessarily the vocal part. It’s more how he’s practicing and getting ready for our opponents and how he’s conducting himself for the most part in games. He has really grown in that area a lot. It’s a big plus for us. He’s not perfect. No one is. That, along with offensively making quicker decisions, have been his two biggest areas of improvement this year.”
Taj Gibson chimed in: “It’s been crazy, especially with Jo. As you saw in the Sacramento game, when he went down [got ejected], everybody was kind of looking around like, ‘What can we really do now?’ Because he’s one of those vocal leaders, he’s one of those energy guys that he’s always a believer, no matter what the circumstances. As long as you have a healthy, energetic Jo, you can win any kind of game, you can beat anybody and that’s the kind of player he is, and that’s the kind of player he’s becoming. He’s been really moving the ball. Once all the injuries happened, I told him, ‘You’ve got to just be that same monster you were last year, as far as just distributing the ball, getting guys good looks, dominating the rebounds, scoring,’ and he’s been doing all those things, and he’s only going to continue to do that.”
Hinrich remains on minutes limit
Kirk Hinrich returned from his four-game absence due to a right-hamstring injury on the first game of the Bulls’ six-game Western Conference road trip, a win in San Antonio. Hinrich has been on an approximate 25 minute-per-game since then, something Thibodeau thinks should remain even after he’s fully healthy, due to the success of the point-guard platoon between the veteran and backup D.J. Augustin.
“We want him to be healthy, so we’ll see where it is. The main thing is to keep him on the floor, so I think it’s working fine right now and hopefully—I think 25 [minutes per game] is a good number. Twenty-five to 30 is basically what I’d like to see, so we’re close and he’s handled that part well,” the coach explained. “As long as he’s healthy and he’s feeling good, I think we’re in good shape. D.J.’s done a terrific job. I like the two of them together, so that’s worked well. We understand where we are and as long as we don’t lose sight of the fact that we have to play extremely hard to give ourselves a chance because we are short-handed.”
Rookie Murphy biding his time
Erik Murphy, a second-round pick who has seen scant playing time this season, understands that his opportunities are limited playing power forward, the Bulls’ strongest position, behind established veterans Carlos Boozer and Gibson, the team’s sixth man. While he’d be open to the playing time he would undoubtedly receive playing for the Bulls’ D-League affiliate, the Iowa Energy, he also sees the value in practicing against the likes of Boozer and Gibson daily.
“I think they’re both beneficial. Obviously it would be nice to go down and play, and play in some games and get a little feel for that again. I think we’ve got 12 active guys on the team. I think you have to have that at all times, so if the opportunity comes and the situation’s right, it’s something that I’m definitely open to,” Murphy explained to CSNChicago.com. “I know they’re [Boozer and Gibson] both ahead of me on the totem pole, but at the same time, it’s a great opportunity for me to learn from them and watch them, and pick up things that they do and take as much advice from them as I can.”
Regarding his fellow New England native playing in the D-League, Thibodeau said, “Right now, it doesn’t make sense because of where we are in terms of practice and walkthroughs. Even though there is limited practice, you still have to do your walkthroughs and things like that. Right now, no. But that could change depending on how many bodies we get back.”
Division rival Pistons fire Chicago native Cheeks
Sunday morning it was first reported by Yahoo! Sports that Detroit fired its first-year head coach, former NBA champion point guard Maurice “Mo” Cheeks, a graduate of the South Side’s DuSable High School. Cheeks was hired last summer to guide the Pistons, who are currently one game out of the Eastern Conference’s eighth playoff spot after adding offseason acquisitions Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to go along with the young interior tandem of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.
Thibodeau previously worked with Cheeks on the Philadelphia coaching staff and was saddened about the news.
“He’s obviously a close friend of mine, so [I’m] disappointed. It’s one of the bad parts of the business. He’s a good man. He’s a heck of a coach. Just disappointed,” he said. “I haven’t talked to him in a couple weeks, but I thought they were moving in the right direction. It’s a new staff. They made major changes. I think they’re playing well right now. You hate to see it, but it’s part of the business.”
Thibodeau weighs in on Pacers picking up Andrew Bynum
Indiana's acquisition of Andrew Bynum, who was briefly a Bull before the organization subsequently waived him following the trade of Luol Deng to Cleveland, has raised eyebrows around the league. But Thibodeau claimed that the division rival Pacers adding a post-up scorer to back up All-Star center Roy Hibbert, their defensive anchor inside, hasn't been something he's pondered much.
"To be honest, I haven’t thought about it a lot. Other than when he’s been healthy, he’s been a very good player. He gives them added depth, another guy they can throw the ball into. They’re already a deep team. I think it gives them insurance if they take on an injury. Bynum is a very good player, a terrific player actually," the coach said.