It's uncomfortable to acknowledge because we don't want to believe it's gone. Only one season ago, Joakim Noah won Defensive Player of the Year and finished fourth in MVP voting. He was a manic defender who overcame a lack of size for his position and thrived with his athleticism to become the roaring heart and soul of a team that would come to be defined by his unbreakable spirit.
We remember Noah battling through plantar fasciitis to will the Bulls to a Game 7 victory in Brooklyn with 24 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks. We remember him clapping in Chris Bosh's face, refusing to back down against LeBron and Kevin Garnett and creating an indelible legend in this city with a steal and a slam against the Celtics.
Maybe Joakim Noah will use the offseason to rest up and get healthy. Maybe he'll rediscover the athleticism that made him such a great player. Maybe getting out from Tom Thibodeau's tyrannical reign will do wonders, and Fred Hoiberg will utilize him in new and exciting ways. It's all possible. Noah is only 30 and should conceivably have some good years left. The question the Bulls had to ask themselves with the No. 22 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft was: what if he doesn't?
This is why I love the pick of Bobby Portis, a player I ranked No. 12 overall on my big board. You can mock the Bulls for using the same logic to draft Portis they once used to draft Marquis Teague -- "we never thought he'd be there!" -- but that's doing an intellectual disservice to both yourself and the team.
From a long-term team building perspective, the Bulls' biggest need was a center of the future. Bobby Portis can be that player.
No, he isn't a quick fix to what currently ails this team. The Bulls already have four quality big men, and just finding playing time for those players is a tough chore. But this pick isn't about this year. This is about building something sustainable for Fred Hoiberg to work with well into the future. Things change fast in the NBA, and you never know when a strength like front court depth can quickly evaporate into a glaring hole.
I made a graph:
Noah is 30 years old, his game slipped dramatically last season and he has one year left on his contract. Taj Gibson is 30 years old, and he's out for four months thanks to ankle surgery. Pau Gasol is going to turn 35 in July and he might be slower than half the people reading this post. Nikola Mirotic is 24, looks like a great offensive weapon, but doesn't project as a plus defender.
This is why Portis makes so much sense at No. 22. At 6'11, 240 pounds and with a 7'2 wingspan, he's heavier, longer and just as tall as Noah. Portis often played power forward in college, but the Bulls would do well to make him a five. In a league that's downsizing rapidly, Portis is not going to look like a small center. I'm guessing he'll look something like the prototype: he's fast, he has a jump shot and he can play both ends of the floor at an above average level.
Two years from now, the contracts of Gibson and Gasol will have expired. Noah may or may not be around, as he's set to hit free agency in the summer of 2016. Mirotic should be entering his prime with his age 27 season. The hardest thing to find in the NBA -- superstar excluded -- is a two-way big man, and the Bulls might have taken one with the No. 22 pick. That should be considered a coup, even if the pick ignores the Bulls' more pressing problems in the present day.
If you're drafting for immediate impact, more often than not it's going to look stupid. Portis is 20 years old. He was a five-star recruit, a McDonald's All-American, and the SEC Player of the Year as a sophomore. He's always had great size and a load of talent. If he continues on the trajectory he's always been on, he's going to be a very good player.
No, he's not a 24-year-old ready to go like Doug McDermott or Jerian Grant. The thing is, how many times have we seen players bust because they were "NBA ready"? You'd rather have a young player who has always been among the best in his age group than an experienced college guy who beat up on younger kids.
Yeah, the Bulls need guard depth. Yes, they could use another wing. It's true that with four big men ahead of him, Portis might not play much. But I still think it's a perfect pick. If the Bulls can trade Gasol for a wing, great. Do it. If not, it's not like this glut of big men is really something to worry about. Portis doesn't turn legal drinking age until February. If he pans out, he's going to be with the team for so long that you won't even remember what the front court depth chart looked like his rookie year.
Even if Portis doesn't reach the ceiling I believe he has, I think his floor is still as a third big man who plays both ends, can switch between power forward and center and runs well. That description sounds a lot like Gibson, who has been an extremely valuable player for the Bulls throughout his career.
Don't worry about next season. The draft shouldn't be about that. By the time Portis hits his prime, the Bulls are going to look completely different. Adding a capable big man with a pick in the 20s is always a good thing. Give it some time and I think this pick will look great down the road.