At Bulls game, Joakim Noah optimistic about NBA return: ‘I’m staying ready’

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Unable to find a trade, the Knicks waived the center Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, with two years and $37.8 million remaining on his contract. | Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Sitting in a suite Monday night with his 2-year-old daughter on his lap, free agent Joakim Noah reflected on what it meant to return to the United Center.

“It feels really good [to be back],” said Noah, who was greeted with a standing ovation during the first half of the Bulls’ 149-124 loss to the Warriors. “It’s good to be back in the building, and I really wanted my daughter to feel the energy.”

Earlier this month, the Knicks waived Noah even though he had two years left on his contract. Two weeks into the season, Noah is still without a team.

Asked if he would want to play for the Bulls again, Noah hesitated.

“It’s a tough question,” he said.

His ugly breakup with the organization after 2015-16 would make it tough. Tension arose that season because Noah was unhappy with coach Fred Hoiberg’s decision to pull him out of the starting lineup and play him off the bench.

Noah, who was the Defensive Player of the Year and finished fourth in MVP voting in 2013-14, suffered a knee injury and served a 20-game suspension for violating the league’s anti-drug policy in 2016-17. Last season, he played in only seven games.

He remains optimistic, however, that he’ll play in the NBA again.

“I’m staying ready and focused,” said Noah, who’s working out “a couple of times” a day. “[Just] waiting if something good comes along.”

Hoiberg praises Lue

Tyronn Lue’s firing in Cleveland was another reminder for Hoiberg of how precarious NBA coaching positions have become.

Considering Lue brought the city its first championship in any major sport since 1964 and made it to the Finals three consecutive seasons, then was cut loose after an 0-6 start, it’s no wonder Hoiberg consistently steers clear of talking about his own job in any sort of detail.

“I have a lot of respect and admiration for Ty Lue for what he did, going in there and taking over midway through [the 2015-16 season] and taking that team to a championship,’’ Hoiberg said. “It’s not easy when you have those types of personalities and players and finding a way to have them buy in, and he did that, bringing them to a championship. To have that happen this early in the season with some of the injuries that they’ve had, it’s tough.

“Ty is a very well-respected coach all around the league. I know that for a fact. He’ll have another opportunity. I’m confident in that.’’

McKinnie comes home

When Warriors forward Alfonzo McKinnie returned to the United Center — he grew up about 15 minutes away and played at Curie and Marshall — as a member of the defending NBA champions, he was overcome with emotion.

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“I didn’t expect anything like this to happen,” McKinnie told reporters before the game. “I wanted it to happen. I prayed for it to happen. But at the time, it wasn’t looking promising.”

McKinnie wasn’t given a direct path to the NBA, so he paved his own. After being lightly recruited out of Marshall and undrafted out of Wisconsin-Green Bay, McKinnie paid $150 to try out for the G League in 2016. It might’ve been his best investment.

McKinnie, 26, made his NBA debut last season with the Raptors. After being waived at the end of the season, he ultimately earned a spot with the Warriors after impressing coach Steve Kerr in training camp.

“It’s been a hell of a journey — a lot of ups and downs,” McKinnie said. “To start from where I was at until now, I’m just grateful for the opportunities that I was blessed with, and I’m just trying to make the best of it.”

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