If the Bulls’ 8-2 record without Joakim Noah this season wasn’t evidence enough of why the organization deems him expendable via trade, Monday night’s 114-100 embarrassing loss to Washington was a tiny reminder.
Making his first appearance since he suffered a small tear in his left shoulder back on Dec. 21, Noah was not only dealing with rust, but also a diminishing role.
Not exactly the sparkplug that coach Fred Hoiberg anticipated Noah being, as the free agent-to-be went scoreless in an 0-for-7 showing, twice getting blocked at the rim by guards, and finishing with a minus-9 in the plus/minus category.
“Sure, when you miss nine games you’re going to have a little rust,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said of Noah’s return. “Jo had some energy, he had nine rebounds, so it’s out there. He got his feet wet.
“I give him a lot of credit for kind of getting that second unit turned around [this season]. Again, we talked about him developing chemistry with Doug [McDermott], Niko [Mirotic] was in that lineup for a stretch, and now that will be Bobby [Portis], but Jo really is the leader of that second group. I think he’s taken pride in that role.’’
Noah deserves credit for all of that, but that still hasn’t stopped the Bulls from making and taking calls on trade possibilities for Noah, according to multiple sources.
Because of the emergence of Portis, the Bulls are looking at a surplus of bigs, even playing Mirotic at the three spot in order to spread the minutes out.
Noah actually had several solid games before the injury, which was driving his value up for the Bulls, but against the Wizards, well, let’s call it his stock taking a slight hit.
Noah first checked into the game with 4:33 left in the first quarter, as the Bulls (22-14) were only down 17-14. They actually grabbed the lead with Noah out there in the second quarter on a McDermott jumper, but then watched the bottom fall out when Washington (17-19) went on an 18-2 run.
Noah was on the floor for a big chunk of that, going into the halftime locker room minus-11, while shooting 0-for-2 from the floor in just under 10 minutes of work.
The second half wasn’t much better, as Noah played another nine minutes, missed another five shots, but did finish the game with nine rebounds and four assists.
As far as the highly-anticipated Portis-Noah tandem? Well, it barely materialized, as Portis was only given six minutes of work until mop-up time late in the game.
If Noah’s return does indeed end up costing Portis minutes, however, he seems ready for it.
“I’m not worried about minutes,’’ Portis said. “The only thing I’m worried about is controlling what I can control and that’s me coming in every day and working as hard as I can.
“I’m just playing my role.’’
Which could be made easier for Portis when, and if, Noah is in fact moved.
That remained the big-picture problem facing the Bulls. The smaller picture was a second-consecutive loss, and again some serious communication problems on defense.
“You’ve got to work on it,’’ veteran Pau Gasol said of the lingering problem. “Force yourself to speak and communicate out there.
“[Washington] wanted it more than we did, and that’s an issue. There’s been a handful of painful losses already, especially in this building, and that’s something that if you want to be a top team, you want to be a title contender, you just can’t afford.’’