Dealing with the frustration of a first-round exit and the helplessness of being sidelined by injury again, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah enters the offseason hoping for brighter days with Team France in the Olympics.
"I'm gunning for it," Noah said recently. "I'm hoping that I'll be healthy and be able to play."
Noah sprained his left ankle in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quartefinals against the Philadelphia 76ers and missed the final two games as the Bulls became the fifth No. 1 seed to be knocked out by an eighth seed.
Noah missed 34 games last season, largely due to a torn ligament in his hand. He also sprained an ankle and missed three games in April, 2011. The ankle had to be re-examined by doctors before he was cleared to play for France last summer.
"I've got to strengthen my ankles," he said. "Too many ankle injuries throughout the years. I've got to strengthen up my ankles.
"I'm just frustrated because I really feel like I really worked hard on trying to keep my body right. I feel like the ankle injury was unfortunate. I think just going full speed onto somebody's ankle and landing on somebody's foot, that could have happened to anybody. It's frustrating, but nobody died. You learn from it and move on."
With Derrick Rose out with a torn ACL, the Bulls' frustration was based in the fact they weren't able to see what they could do with a healthy roster.
"I think it's just important for everybody to regroup mentally and to make another run at it," Noah said. "Because you know what, Derrick is going to come back, and it's adversity but it's just another challenge for us like (coach Tom Thibodeau) always says. We are very privileged people, doing what we love to do. Let's just go out there this summer and come back hungrier than ever and make a run.
"I think the unfortunate part of this year is that we don't know, we didn't measure up against the teams that we wanted to measure up against. But I think that, I personally believe that this group could compete against anybody. We had tough breaks throughout the year and that's unfortunate but it's also part of the game. You learn from being injured, you learn from the hard times that will make the good times even better."