After finishing his usual routine of launching extra jumpers following the Bulls’ morning shootaround at the United Center, Joakim Noah showcased the same feel for the assembled media that he displays on the court for his teammates moving without the ball.
“I have a feeling you guys have some questions today,” he said.
The All-Star center wasn’t referring to his sprained right thumb — though that was an important question: Noah will play through the injury in Friday night’s matchup against the Grizzlies. He was talking about the report that he talked to Knicks superstar Carmelo Anthony about coming to the Bulls as a free agent when the two players were in New Orleans for All-Star weekend last month.
“You want me to address that? I don’t feel like addressing it. I really have nothing to say,” Noah said. “Doesn’t matter [if the report was accurate]. What does that have to do with our team now? It doesn’t matter.”
CSNChicago.com confirmed that ESPN’s report that Noah did discuss the prospect of Anthony relocating from New York to Chicago, but a league source said that Anthony subsequently had a conversation with Timberwolves All-Star power forward Kevin Love, a oft-rumored Knicks free-agency target in 2015. Nevertheless, Noah was annoyed at having to answer queries about the rumors.
“What are you talking about? The gossip going on? A lot of gossip right now, a lot of gossip. I feel it. I feel a lot of gossip. I think we all know that we’re in a good place, our team is in a good place. We’ve got a healthy group, it’s a healthy environment, and we’re not going to let gossip get in the way of what we’re doing. We’ve gone through so much this year, so it’s not going to be a little gossip that gets out there,” he said. “This group deserves that. We’ve gone through a lot, and we’re not going to let gossip get in the way of what we’re doing. We feel like we’ve got exciting times coming up, got great teams coming in, and like I’ve said since the beginning, we’re not taking none of these experiences — playing in the UC — we’re not taking any of these experiences for granted. We’re enjoying playing with each other and what happens in the future happens. Right now it’s a good time to be a Chicago Bull.”
When pressed about the start of free agency in the summer, Noah grew exasperated: “July 1? July 1, really? We’re talking about July 1 right now? Come on, now. I understand you guys are doing your jobs, but I’ve got to do my job.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, reportedly the ice-breaker in the conversation between Noah and Anthony — Anthony was said to have asked Noah about playing for Thibodeau, which could easily be construed as the small forward considering the possibility that Thibodeau could be the Knicks’ head coach next season, another prominent rumor that has circulated this season — took a similar tact to his star player when asked about the report.
“To me, it’s just a bunch of nonsense. We don’t pay any attention to it, just get ready for Memphis. First you have the trade deadline. Then you have free agency stuff. It’s all nonsense. We’re just concentrating on our next opponent,” the coach explained. “The thing is, at the beginning of the year in our first meeting, we talk about all those things. Because it’s predictable, it’s going to happen every year. And so I think establishing a routine of how you get ready and eliminating all the distractions that could come, we talk about all that stuff before. You can predict when it’s going to happen. OK, as you get closer to the trade deadline, stuff is going to get talked about. Then after, it’s the free agents.
"It’s always something. It’s very easy to get knocked off track in this league if you allow yourself to be knocked off track. The important thing for everybody on the team — and it’s one of the things I think our team has done well thus far — is to lock in on your next opponent, concentrate on your improvement, everyone lock into the team. We feel great about our team. Just play. Concentrate on the things that we have to do and move forward. Eliminate all the distractions.
"We don’t talk about it a lot. We talk about exactly where we are in terms of how we’re playing, what we need to improve, who our opponent is, know your opponent well. Just lock into that.”
When asked about whether he’s thought about if Noah’s reported conversation constituted an NBA tampering violation — as current Knicks head coach Mike Woodson suggested Thursday — Thibodeau offered a predictable response: “No, because it’s a bunch of nonsense. People just start throwing stuff out there and they wait for everybody to respond to it. If you waste time on stuff like that, then you’re not thinking about Memphis. So that’s all we’re thinking about. Think about Memphis.”