NBA Basketball is never static. Teams need to remain in a constant state of flux as they look to improve via trade, the draft and any of the innumerable deals management discusses to change their personnel. NBA players like to remind us they’re aware it’s a business, but it’s hard to take them seriously after the relationships fostered on a tight-knit team. Never was this more apparent than the recent silence by Joakim Noah following Chicago’s trade with Cleveland, which jettisoned Luol Deng out of the only city he’s known since coming into the league.
Chicago immediately waived Andrew Bynum after trading away Deng, who had been with the franchise for the first eight and a half years if his career. After the trade, Noah missed eight media sessions over five days, refusing to speak to any reporters about his “brother,” Luol Deng.
While we thought it was coach Tom Thibodeau who might be the most upset at Deng’s departure, it was really Noah, and we forgot Thibs’ harsh, “flu-like symptoms, whatever” when Deng was in the hospital for that first round Nets-Bulls series last spring.
So Noah remained mum, skipping post-game Q&A sessions and keeping clear of any media while he mourned the loss of his frontcourt brother-in-arms.
Then, late Saturday night, Noah finally spoke, and attempted to explain the loss of Deng and Chicago’s desire to avoid the dreaded tanking label — even if that’s what management is secretly hoping happens before a 2014 Draft GM’s have been salivating over since June.
The night Noah chose to open up about the loss of Deng was coincidentally the same night of a bumbling ticket graphic featuring Deng:
Here’s what Noah said about the loss of Deng, via Steve Aschburner of the Hang Time Blog:
“The trade definitely hurt. But we’ve got to move on,” Noah said, sitting at his dressing stall after the Bulls’ 103-97 victory over Charlotte at United Center. “I feel confident in this team. We’re working really hard. A lot of people say this is a business and all that. This game is more than a business to me. I put everything I got into this. So … I feel like Lu is the same way, so it was hard for me to digest. That’s just my perspective.
“Everybody has a job. I’m not mad at anybody. I’m not mad at the organization or anything like that. It’s just, my brother’s not here no more.
“I just needed a little bit of time to digest that.”
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The Bulls traded Deng after he turned down a three-year, $30 million extension. They wanted to avoid losing him this summer for nothing, since they weren’t willing to pay his market value on the free agency market. But when asked if he was aware of that strategizing by the Bulls front office, Noah reiterated his familial feelings for Deng:
“Uh, it’s hard to say. Because at the end of the day, that’s my brother,” Noah said. “He’s not here anymore. That’s how I see it. They [management] see the game differently. They’re not out there on the court. They’re not out there on the plane. They don’t know how much Lu meant to me personally.”
Noah was also very clear he’ll continue to play hard. Playing hard and “tanking” are mutually exclusive to Noah and all the players under Thibodeau. Joakim also mentioned the people of Chicago and why his level of effort should match their undying support for the team.
“This is a city that, when I come to the game, I see the guy selling newspapers on the street, it’s cold outside,” Noah said. “When he sees me driving by, he’s excited. You know what I mean? He’s excited, he’s like, ‘Let’s go Bulls, get it done tonight!’ I feel like I play for that guy.
“When I look at the top of the arena and Thibs is about to call timeout, I look up top and see a guy who looks this big [tiny], and he’s up cheering, jumping up and down, that’s the guy I play for.
“That’s what the city represents. There’s a lot of hardship here, a lot of adversity in this city. And I feel like whenever I play basketball, I want people to be proud of their team.”
So even though Deng is gone, and many see this season as lost and careening towards a possible lottery selection, Noah trudges on, playing hard while attempting to block out — just like he does opposing centers — management’s decision to send his brother packing.