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Joakim Noah’s absence leads to a rudderless Bulls’ ship

The Bulls have missed Joakim Noah's effort and leadership in a big way this season. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

A slow drip of a season has been a painful reminder of how much the Bulls miss Joakim Noah. They don’t miss the diminished player, but they do miss the person. They miss his infectious enthusiasm and wise counsel. They miss his concern for teammates and team.

They miss the idea of him.

His absence helps explain why the Bulls didn’t make the playoffs this season. Pound on their tin chest and listen for the echo.

Now, even before Noah had season-ending shoulder surgery in January, he was a shell of the man who won the 2014 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award. So let’s not pretend he would have turned the Bulls into a contender.

But when you see the season-long disconnect between Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose, you wish Noah could have been in uniform to call out both players for their self-involvement. They actually might have listened.

That’s Noah’s gift. He cares, and teammates, no matter how narcissistic, know he cares.

Rose, for reasons clear only to him, is still talking about getting a big contract when his current deal expires after next season. Talking about money while a season fades away shows how tone deaf Rose is. Talking about hitting the free-agency jackpot after a career filled with injuries shows how delusional he is. Talking about your next contract when your net worth is estimated to be $115 million … well, you’d have to live in the Arctic Circle to be as out of touch as this guy is.

“Of course it’s the biggest, the biggest offseason,’’ Rose told reporters last week. “But there’s no pressure or anything. Hard work takes care of that. Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with being over-prepared [for free agency] and I’m prepared right now, so this offseason is going to make me even more prepared.’’

Can you imagine Noah saying anything remotely like that? No, you can’t. That’s because he wants to win. Family is important to him, but he considers winning to be a brother. The rest of it – endorsements, appearances, etc. – has never seemed critical to him. I’m not trying to put a halo on the guy. I just know what’s makes him tick. Not making the playoffs ticks him off.

Noah’s absence has made the Bulls’ heart grow fainter. There were too many games this season in which they folded down the stretch or lost to purported inferior opponents. Again, the Bulls center might not have been able to do much about this season even if he had been healthy. But emotionally, he wouldn’t have stood for it.