Much was made of Joakim Noah's move to the bench to start this season, and while Noah has been a good sport about it, it seems pretty clear the frustration is starting to boil over.
Noah talked to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune after playing just 15 minutes in the Bulls' loss to the Bucks on Tuesday, and the big man seemed almost at a loss for words when talking about his diminished role:
Noah isn't used to facing an uncertain future or answering questions about a limited role or trade speculation. He's used to closing games, wreaking defensive havoc, unleashing primal screams as the emotional epicenter of the Bulls.
Perhaps that's why, in the course of an interview, he three times admitted he didn't know what to say. Twice, he apologized for not giving better answers.
"I mean, I don't know what to say. I wasn't expecting to play such a limited role," Noah said. "I'm trying to stay focused on what I can do to help. That's it.
"It's not about complaining. It's about trying to find solutions. I want to be part of solutions and try to help figure it out."
Noah's minutes have been down all year, but his 15 minutes on Tuesday were especially strange given Pau Gasol played 36 on the second night of a back-to-back while nursing several injuries.
Of course, Noah hasn't exactly helped himself with his play this season, as his finishing around the basket has been woeful and his defense hasn't been quite up to past standards (although still pretty good). He also was admittedly pretty awful in these first two games back from the shoulder injury, and at times it's seemed like he's been favoring that shoulder.
However, Noah was starting to come around before the injury, and the Bulls need him to find that groove again if they want to win anything this season. There's no reason for Gasol to be playing huge minutes at this point, especially with the Bulls' defense starting to regress, and I certainly don't blame Noah for being frustrated:
"I want to play all the time. I think any competitor does. I've said that all along," Noah said. "But this (role) won't change my commitment to the team. I've never been about anything but winning and the team.
"I'm blessed to play this game for a living. Before the (shoulder) injury, I felt I was finding a rhythm. I just need to get back to that. I feel like I will."
Noah will get his chance to find that rhythm when he starts against the Sixers on Thursday with Gasol sitting out to nurse those injuries.
For what it's worth, K.C. said the Bulls have made some "preliminary calls gauging the market" on several players, with Noah included among those players, although it still feels like a big-splash deal is unlikely.
This all makes for a somewhat awkward situation for the longest-tenured Bull. He's set to hit the free-agent market for possibly his last "big" deal (I have no idea what his market is with all this new money coming in), but his current role (and again, his own play) is hurting his value. That's got to be playing into his frustrations as well, and it's never fun to hear your name in trade rumors, especially given Noah's standing with the franchise.
I have my own reservations about Noah's future with the team, and the front office should absolutely look at deals for him. But if there is a trade, hopefully it's not a shitty salary dump for a protected pick the Bulls may never see.