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Joakim Noah ‘Big Apple’ bound, but foundation to stay in Chicago

Bulls center Joakim Noah sits next to Derick Rose after fouling out in the fourth quarter of the Chicago Bulls 104-94 loss to the Miami Heat in game three of the NBA Eastern Conference semifinal game May 10, 2013. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

The Bulls are going to need a longer video tribute for the United Center scoreboard when the New York Knicks visit next season.

A source close to Joakim Noah confirmed a report that the long-time Bulls center is “90 percent sure” he’ll be joining Derrick Rose with the Knicks. Free-agency talks began at 11:01 p.m. Thursday.

Unless there’s a complete breakdown in a scheduled meeting between Noah, 31, and Knicks president Phil Jackson, you can go ahead and pencil Noah in as the new starting center in the city he grew up in.

As reported by the Sun-Times in May and confirmed again Thursday, Noah has been telling teammates he’s moving on from the Bulls because he doesn’t trust the direction the front office is taking the team. There were reports Noah and the Bulls had “positive dialogue” early on, but several sources have since disputed that.

“Jo never had plans to talk to the Bulls and was already saying goodbye to teammates and some of the staff members,” the source said Thursday.

Bulls general manager Gar Forman said last week that the team would talk to Noah’s representative when free agency opened, to see if there was a mutual meeting ground, but Forman privately has known Noah’s nine-year run with the Bulls is over.

Noah, drafted ninth overall out of Florida in 2007, will leave Chicago having played in 572 regular-season games, averaging 9.3 points and 9.4 rebounds and winning the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year Award.

His impact off the court has been just as powerful. According to the source Thursday, Noah’s Arc Foundation and “Rock the Drop’’ anti-violence campaign remain priorities, and Noah intends to keep the foundation based in Chicago.

“Jo wants to bring the program with him wherever he goes,” the source said, “but [the foundation is] staying in Chicago. Jo feels this community needs it most, and it’s in his heart.”

According to reports late Thursday, Noah and the Knicks were close to an agreement on a four-year, $72 million deal. The Knicks would still have enough money to also land an impact outside shooter to go along with Rose, Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis.

Either way, Noah is poised to be reunited with Rose, his close friend, who was traded to the Knicks last week in a five-player deal.

The Bulls are not expected to make a huge splash in free agency. Forman will be shopping for second- and third-tier role players to round out a roster with only a few open spots. That means a projected starting five of newly acquired Jose Calderon and Robin Lopez, Jimmy Butler, recently drafted rookie Denzel Valentine and Taj Gibson, unless Gibson is traded or beaten out by Nikola Mirotic.

Privately, this season for Forman is about being competitive and laying a foundation to try to land two big-name free agents next summer.

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