Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011
By Aggrey Sam
NEWARK, N.J.Before Tuesdays win over the Raptors, injured center Joakim Noah held court in the Bulls locker room. But it didnt feel like old timesNoah doesnt normally talk to the media before gameswith a more somber look on the face of the charismatic New York City native.
Just being injured as an athlete, it sucks. It definitely puts things in perspective. It makes you appreciate the game a little bit more. I had to deal with that a little bit last year. Being injured is part of the process. Every athlete goes through it and its just how you deal with it, said Noah, who told reporters that hell get the cast off of his right handfollowing last months thumb surgerynext week. That Christmas one at home in New York was pretty tough for me, but theyre all tough. Even practices are toughI want to play in the games and Miami of course is a game I want to play in. I just want to be there with my teammates and improve as a group, and see how far we can take this thing.
Noah discussed playing in Toronto the night before he was scheduled to have surgery.
Usually injuries happen and you cant really play. I knew I was having surgery and I played that night. Its definitely a weird feeling, but hey, we won the game, recounted Noah. Doc said it wouldnt make a difference. I asked him if I could play and they were just like, Youre going to have surgery tomorrow, but if you want to play, I guess you can do whatever you want.
Although Noah cant play basketball, hes not sitting by idly.
Ive been working out for a little while. Dont tell anybody, thoughI want them to think I was just chilling on vacation. I will be back, said Noah. Ive been running and doing some conditioning, and doing some liftinga lot of core work, a lot of leg strengthening. Its hard to make everything game like. Theres nothing like playing in a basketball game, nothing you can do to simulate a basketball game, but Im doing the best I can, even with a cast on.
Just taking it day by day, controlling what I can control. I can do some running. Theres some things I can do out there. Work on my left hand, work on my in-and-outI cant crossover, but I can work on my in-and-out with my left hand. When it matters, Ill be ready.
For the perpetually active fourth-year player, watching his teammates play without him has been difficult, but hes gleaning some positives from the experience.
Am I learning anything? No, Im just learning that were a pretty good basketball team. The potential is scary. I think we definitely have a way to go and theres a lot of areas to improve on, but were still in a pretty good place right now, so weve just got to keep improving, stay humble, stay driven and not get caught up in any of the hype, even though I think were a little bit under the radar. But I think we have a chance to do something pretty special here and thats pretty exciting, explained Noah. Right now, I know Im not going to go on this road trip. Thibs thinks its better that I stay behind and just work out at the Berto, and right now, Im just focusing on that and well see how it goes when the cast comes off.
One of the more disappointing elements of Noah being sidelined is that his absence occurred after he and Carlos Boozer played in only a handful of contests together.
Carlos is obviously somebody who takes our team to a whole other level. We have a chance to do something special with the pieces that we have here and Ive never played with somebody whos that gifted offensively in the post, so Im very excited to hopefully learn a few things with him. Even when I was playing with him, I was hurt. I didnt really have a right hand, so Im excited to play with him when Im 100 percent healthy, said Noah.
Still, he thinks the close-knit teams burgeoning chemistry is one of the factors in the teams success thus far this season.
I think it means a lot. When you have teammates that respect each other, I think it really makes a huge difference. I think everybodys in it for the right reasons and I think thats very important, said Noah. Its not just a question about being close. Ive been on teams that have been very close and we couldnt win a game. Its more than that. Its about sacrificing for one another and not being selfish. At the end of the day, yeah, I think Ive been on teams that maybe weve hung out more, but that doesnt particularly mean youre going to win more basketball games. I think it helps to be close, but at the end of the day, playing for the right reasons are more important.
In the meantime, Noah is keeping himself occupied with, among other pursuits, filling in as a guest television analyst for Bulls games.
I was actually pretty nervous. Its tough. I had to cough at one point; I didnt know that you had to push a button. People are talking in the earpiece and I didnt know you had to keep talking while that goes on, so I had to learn a lot on the fly, but overall, people said it was pretty good. I was a little worried about it, but it was cool, he quipped.
After the teams slide when he was out last season, his noticeable impact on games and his popularity in the city, Noah knows hes not a forgotten man in Chicago or even elsewhere, as evidenced by his third-place position in the most recent balloting for the NBA All-Star Game.
Its cool, but I think theres a bigger picture than All-Star balloting and obviously as a player, thats humbling, he observed. Its not nothing, but at the end of the day, you have to look at the big picture and the big picture is to play at the end.
And for that to happen, a healthy Noah will be necessary.
The Starting Five
1. With the Bulls winning 14 of their last 16 games, it would be easy for the team to lose focus against some of their underwhelming opponents, such as the Nets, who Chicago is playing for the second time in less than a week. Luol Deng, however, believes the key to continuing the Bulls winning ways is to stay the course. Weve just got to stay humble. We know what were striving towards. Winning like this is new for a lot of us, so the main thing is really to know that it could be gone anytime. Weve just got to keep working hard and keep getting better. Its not really about our opponent each game. Tomorrow, Jerseys a good team, but its still about us, how were going to come out there and play tomorrowour main focus is us getting better. However the game goes, the main thing is did we get better that game or not and what did we do defensively, said Deng. A lot of times, you dont want to see teams right away, especially after you beat them. Guys get up for games like that and Im sure Jerseys waiting on us tomorrow. Then again, we can have the confidence that we beat themthe whole season so far has been fun. We work hard and its fun to see the results. Since training camp, weve been talking about how hard it was and were seeing results now, so weve got to keep staying with it.
2. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau shared his relatively humorous take on Noahs status. He can stretch andlets see what elsehe can run on the treadmill, he can do things like that and he can lift with his lower body. Its mainly all conditioning stuff, said Thibodeau, who added that Noah wouldnt be traveling with the team until we get closer to him coming back. While were practicing, hes working with our strength and conditioning peopleon game day, hell be down at the United Center early and hell be in back in the weight room, working out.
3. Noah also discussed three veteran players who have influenced him: Kurt Thomas and former teammates Ben Wallace and Brad Miller. Kurts somebody I grew up watching a lot of, when he used to play with the Knicks. Somebody I have great respect for. Probably one of the best post defenders, even to this day. I think that his post defense is very underrated. Its definitely one of the reasons why hes still around. Its definitely not his physique. I feel like Ive been lucky to have a lot of great vets since Ive been in the NBA, said Noah. I learned a lot from Ben Wallace, in terms of defensive body positioning and things like that. With Brad, I feel like I learned a lot about passing angles and even him, hes pretty slow on his feethe wasnt a great athletebut his positioning defensively, thats what he needed to be effective on defense. Brad was somebody who had a very high I.Q. and Kurt is kind of similar in that way. Hes not very quick on his feet, he doesnt have unbelievable bounce or anything like that, but hes somebody who understands positioning and angles.
4. An issue starting to gain steam nationallyas well as in Chicago, of courseis Derrick Roses MVP candidacy. Noah opined, I think that at first, when he said it in the beginning of the season, I think everybody looked at him like he was crazy, but hes somebody who has a lot of confidence in his ability and were playing at a pretty high level. I think that hes somebody who understands that the success of this team is going to determine a lot of things for him individually. I think that he understands that wellever since he got into the leaguethat its not about his stats, but its about the success of his team, thats whats going to bring everything.
5. Dont forget to follow me on Twitter at @CSNBullsInsider.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.