Joakim Noah still willing to play Mr. Nice Guy ... for now

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Joakim Noah is still all about playing Mr. Nice Guy.

The Bulls big man finds no need to continually discuss his pending free agency after this season or the fact that there are still setbacks with the surgically-repaired left knee.

It’s still all about “you got to make sacrifices.’’

That’s easy to say and do eight games into the regular season.

But what happens if the season isn’t going well, and the minutes off the bench are drying up? What happens when Mr. Team First has to shake hands with Mr. This is a Business?

Fred Hoiberg remained confident on Thursday that Noah’s make-up won’t allow him to take away from the team.

“I don’t think so, and again, I think that big thing is having that open dialogue and being able to talk to him about that,’’ the first-year coach said. “His minutes have steadily been going up before that last game, and we were going to make the change in the lineup for Jo to be out there early on. So he’s still going to have a big role, whether he’s starting or whether he’s coming off the bench. And I think that’s an important thing for Joakim.’’

Noah was about to get his starting job back Monday night in Philadelphia.

Hoiberg didn’t love the way the defense was starting off games with the frontcourt of Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol, so had Noah penciled in at the four, putting Mirotic back on the bench. Then the left knee betrayed him.

The same left knee that was repaired in the summer following the 2013-14 season, and the same knee that was an issue throughout most of last season.

Noah was held out of the game, missed the Wednesday practice, and after some initial soreness at the start of the Thursday practice, was able to get through it. According to Hoiberg, Noah will hopefully play Friday against Charlotte, but is back to the reserve role for right now with another evaluation of the starting lineup expected after the game with the Hornets.

“Well, I’ll say this: It was great to see Niko go out and play with that kind of confidence,’’ Hoiberg said of Mirotic’s 20-point, 10-rebound game. “And he’s a couple very good practices since then. The way [Charlotte] starts [Friday[, they start Marvin Williams at the four, we’ll most likely go with Niko at the start of the game and then we’ll evaluate things after [Friday night].’’

What needs no evaluation for the time being is the care the Bulls continue to take with Noah. After averaging 36.8 minutes per game in the 2012-13 season and then 35.3 minutes per game the following season, Noah went down to 30.6 minutes per game last year after the surgery, and was at 20.6 minutes per game so far this season.

And while there has been no minutes restriction placed on him, he is still under close watch.

“You have to be cognizant,’’ Hoiberg said. “The other day against Philly was the first time that he’s had any real pain where he has come to us, come to the trainers and talked about it. So hopefully it’s a one-time deal, it’s over with. Do you have to be careful with minutes? Yeah, you probably do throughout the early part of this season and see how everything works out, but he said he’s feeling 100 percent better than he was in Philly.’’

Good news for Noah and the Bulls. Now, will it stay good news?

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