Coming off the injury-riddled campaign the Bulls had, it’s understandable that lingering ailments would be an outside concern entering this season.
The organization, which lost long-time strength and conditioning coach Erik Helland over the summer — Helland took a position at the University of Wisconsin — even addressed the issue by hiring a director of athletic performance from the same Los Angeles-area facility where superstar Derrick Rose rehabilitated from his ACL injury.
“We studied things that are happening within sports and internally where we’re at. We wanted to be proactive in trying to get our whole group to collaborate and put our guys in the best position possible,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman explained. “So we added Jennifer Swanson as our director of athletic performance. Really her job is to tie everything together from a health standpoint, whether it’s from the training program to the weights to the strength and conditioning program to massage therapy to nutrition.”
To a man, however, it was claimed that there would be no carry-over from a year ago during Friday’s media day at the Berto Center. While that could change with a tweaked ankle in two-a-day weekend practices — or worse, signs that a key player or two isn’t fully recovered in the Oct. 5 preseason opener at rival Indiana — for the time being, positive vibes abounded.
“I feel great, my feet feel great. I’m 100 percent healthy and I’m so excited for this year. This is what it’s all about, being in the position right now to have our team healthy at the start of camp,” said Joakim Noah, who struggled with plantar fasciitis last season. “I kept doing my offseason training. I had a lot of time, a lot of time for myself, to get myself in order, get my body feeling right. I feel strong, I feel healthy. I’ve been really working on my game.”
The All-Star center, known for marching to his own drummer, again trained with surfer Laird Hamilton during the summer.
“I always train with Laird a lot. He’s kind of like a big brother to me. It’s a great workout for me because it’s low impact. It doesn’t put a lot of impact on your joints, especially when you’re in the pool all the time,” he explained. “So I’ve been training with him a lot and I’ve been here, as well, just doing a lot of things with kids out here in Chicago. I couldn’t be in a better place in my mind. Just mentally strong, physically strong and just ready.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau backed Noah’s claims.
“Joakim’s been terrific. At the end of last season, he found an osteopath and a massage therapist that really helped him, so he looks great,” he said, referring to the treatment Noah received at the end of last season after it was believed that he might not even suit up for the Bulls’ eventual series win over Brooklyn. “I’ve watched him work out and he’s in a great place right now. He’s looking forward to the season, he had a terrific year last year and we’re looking forward to even more out of him this year.”
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Thibodeau also vouched for the present clean bills of health of key reserves Taj Gibson, who had ankle issues — including an ill-timed offseason sprain that prevented him from participating in USA Basketball’s Select Team mini-camp, at which Thibodeau served as an assistant coach — and Kirk Hinrich, who suffered a litany of injuries last season.
“Taj is doing great. He’s put a lot of work into rehab, his body feels good, so he’s ready to go,” Thibodeau said. “Kirk has been fine all summer, so he’s ready to go.”
Like Hinrich, whose season-ending ailment was a ruptured calf, All-Star small forward Luol Deng missed the end of the Bulls’ postseason run. Deng was hospitalized multiple times in the aftermath of a spinal-tap procedure performed during the aforementioned Nets series and has characterized the situation as life-threatening. While he’s currently garnering more headlines because of the fact that his representatives and the Bulls broke off contract-extension negotiations over the summer, Deng also addressed his offseason recovery.
“It took me a little while to be cleared for running and everything. I just used that time for traveling,” Deng explained. “Once I came back to Chicago, I saw my doctor and was doing a lot better. Once I got cleared, I started working out and started getting ready for the season.”
Of course, the player whose status creates the most fanfare is Derrick Rose, who missed all of last season. It’s almost at the point where his recovery can be gauged by simply evaluating his play, but until then, we’ll have to take his word for it.
“I’m doing fine, I’m happy to be moving around, just being a part of the team, being in the meetings,” Rose said. “I’m feeling healthy right now. Last year was last year, and I’m just trying to look forward. This is a new start.”
And not just for him alone.