Anybody watching Game 5 of the Bulls' first-round series loss to the Wizards could tell that Joakim Noah was hurting. Noah was basically dragging one leg around the court during the second half, and later we found out that he was suffering from a knee injury and needed surgery.
Noah had arthroscopic knee surgery on May 1, leading to an offseason dedicated to rehab. And while Bulls general manager Gar Forman said at Bulls Media Day that the rehab has gone well, he also said Noah hasn't been able to do much basketball-related activity since the surgery.
"His rehab has gone great from the very beginning," Forman said. "He spent a lot of time here in Chicago with his rehab, working with the performance team, working with Jen (Swanson) and our training staff and weight and conditioning staff. Everything has been positive. With that said, he hasn't played basketball since the injury. So that's something we'll have to watch now going into camp. But I think he's strong and the rehab has been a positive."
Noah admitted to feeling "terrible" at the end of last season, and one has to wonder just how long he was hurting. Noah wasn't awful against the Wizards, but he didn't make his normal impact and had his lunch taken by Nene in several games. Would a healthy Noah have made a difference in the series? It's hard to think the Bulls wouldn't have fared at least slightly better if he was.
Noah understands that knee surgery is no joke, and it sounds like he took his rehab very seriously, according to ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell:
"A lot more rehab, a lot more boring stuff," he said. "A lot more boring stuff. But you know, the boring stuff is important. Having knee surgery is very real, especially when you're jumping and playing basketball every day. It's a grueling sport; I had knee surgery, now it's part of my life. I have to do a lot of strengthening and a lot of activation and a lot of flexibility. Not that I wasn't doing that before. It's just being a little bit more conscious of your body. It's just new and I just got to deal with it and I'll be ready."
Noah is hoping to be 100 percent ready to roll during training camp, but it's still unclear if he'll have any limitations. Noah was part of a starting unit in practice Tuesday that also featured Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy and Pau Gasol (no surprises), and he supposedly looked "very good."
Still, it'll be interesting to see how Noah's body reacts to playing basketball again. It wouldn't be a surprise to see Noah get some rest days here and there throughout camp, and he even said he needs to be "cautious." This all seems like a recipe for another slow start for the big man, but it's not like we haven't seen that before, so there shouldn't be much panic if he really struggles to start the season.
Looking at the big picture, there is a cause for concern about how Noah will hold up over the course of the year and moving forward. He turns 30 in February and has dealt with lower-body injuries at the end of each of the last few seasons. The Bulls can't afford Noah to not be healthy if they're going to win a championship, and he hasn't proven that he can stay in one piece in quite some time.
With all this in mind, Thibs has to do whatever he can to keep Noah's minutes at a reasonable level this season. Having such a talented frontcourt with Gasol, Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic should help matters here, so long as there aren't multiple major injuries to them. Limiting Noah's minutes won't guarantee the fact that the reigning Defensive Player of the Year will stay completely healthy, but it certainly can't hurt.