Jimmy Butler and his bruised thigh will be back tonight, Derrick Rose and his surgically-repaired right knee are off crutches and closer to start joining the team on road trips later this month, but all eyes, and ears, were on what Joakim Noah would say on Monday, after he pulled no punches two days earlier.
It was after the win over Charlotte on Saturday, that Noah let it be known that he was still having a hard time seeing why Bulls management traded his good friend Luol Deng.
“They see the game differently than out there on the court,’’ Noah said then. “They’re not out there on the court, they’re not on the plane. They don’t know how much Lu meant to me personally. But like I said, I’m not mad at anybody.’’
By Monday, it was obvious that Noah had made his feelings known, and now it was back to the business of clichés and the business of basketball.
“Just comments, man, just how I feel,’’ Noah said after the morning shootaround, when asked about saying what he felt needed to be said. “I’m just excited for the game tonight. I think our team is locked in, and just got to come ready tonight, ready to go.
“I mean I think, like I said, I’m proud of this team, I feel like we’ve been through a lot of adversity, but we’re taking it one game at a time. We appreciate the opportunity to be playing here, and we’re just focused.’’
Coach Tom Thibodeau was able to read what Noah said, and had no problem with his player speaking out.
“To me, that’s who he is,’’ Thibodeau said. “He’s an emotional guy. Trades are a part of the game. It’s something you have to deal with. Even the initial trade, by that night I thought mentally he was really good in the game. I think he had to sort through it. I saw the way he was responding in practice and the games. And he’s playing great basketball. He’s one of the leaders of the team.
“You guys have been around him. I think you know he cares a lot about winning and his teammates. I think that was a normal reaction. I think Jo has grown a lot. He has been around now. He’s one of our vets. We count on his leadership. And it’s more through his actions. His words were great. But it’s his actions that are most important.’’
As far as Thibodeau, he reiterated that he was fully committed to staying the coach in Chicago, despite another report over the weekend that had him once again flirting with the Knicks job.
Thibodeau strenuously shot it down Saturday night, and on Monday again stressed that his mind was with the Bulls and he fully believes they are committed to winning.
“Hey look, Jerry [Reinsdorf’s] owned the team for a long time,’’ Thibodeau said. “Not many people own two major sports franchises. So I think he has a very good understanding of winning and losing, and what goes into it. There’s a lot of tough decisions that have to be made. I don’t think he ever shies away from that and he’s treated me great, so that’s all I can go by.’’
As for the latest Rose news, it was much to do about nothing, other than he’s off crutches, and again is moving closer to being a fixture on the bench for the remainder of the season.
“He’s coming along fine,’’ Thibodeau said of Rose. “He’s off the crutches. He’s doing more and more, but he still has a long way to go. But he’ll probably start traveling in the next couple weeks. But he’s doing great.’’