Center Joakim Noah and his camp knew it was going to be a long season.
A source close to Noah said as much late in training camp: “Jo’s [left] knee is going to be an issue all season. He’s played through pain before with the plantar [fasciitis in his foot], but this is completely different . . . a different level.’’
It proved to be. Noah not only played at a different level, but he became a different player.
After making a career out of being a high-energy guy, basing his game on defense, rebounding and passing, Noah, 30, had to dial it down because of the knee issue. He became a shell of himself, and that was markedly on display throughout the playoffs.
He averaged 5.8 points and 11 rebounds and shot only 41 percent from the field and a dismal 35 percent from the free-throw line.
So the Bulls’ front office might be looking to move him and the $13.4 million he will make next season in the last year of his contract. No easy task.
Everyone saw Noah’s decline throughout the season, and he would have to pass a physical because of the knee. Then there’s the issue of his expiring contract. The NBA cap experts no longer covet them like they did three to five years ago. It was evident last summer when the Bulls had to invoke the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer and his expiring deal.
The Knicks and Lakers would seem like ideal situations for Noah because of the cap space they’ll have and the bodies they’ll need, but the Bulls aren’t in position to take on ugly contracts in return at this point.
The other thing going against the Bulls is the market.
LaMarcus Aldridge has said that he’d be looking to return to the Trail Blazers, but he’s still an unrestricted free agent, and until he signs, he’s the big catch in free agency. Kevin Love could opt out of his contract with the Cavaliers and become a free agent, and there’s also Paul Millsap, David West (player option), Tristan Thompson (restricted), Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, Brook Lopez (player option) and Greg Monroe.
An argument can be made that all those players would be more sought after than a hobbled Noah.
“[Noah has] to bring activity to our team,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said several times during the playoffs the last few weeks. “Defense. Some nights you’re going to be better than others. He’s going through a rough patch right now, but he’ll work his way through it.’’
Noah never did, but he vows that he’ll return to form.
That turnaround will have to be seen to be believed, and the Bulls might have no choice but to hope that’s the case.
Moving Noah might be a priority, but it just doesn’t seem like a reality.