CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah loves positive energy. He believes in it and the power that it can have on people. He tries to surround himself on a daily basis with people who can pump positivity into his life.
Noah came into this season with plenty of it. He spent the summer working with his close friend and trainer, Alex Perris, trying to get his body back in order after a rough 2014-15 campaign in which his left knee bothered him throughout after offseason surgery. Noah spent part of his summer in Santa Barbara, California, working at The Peak Performance Project because he wanted to feel like his old self again. All the aches and pains of a physical eight-year career had caught up with him and he wanted to rejuvenate his game as he entered the final year of a five-year, $60 million contract.
Noah came into training camp feeling the best he had in a while. All the positive vibes that came with his work in the offseason came with him. He was ready to contribute again on a nightly basis at the highest level. The happiness which accompanied Noah was short-lived -- first year head coach Fred Hoiberg decided to take Noah out of the starting lineup in favor of a Nikola Mirotic-Pau Gasol combo.
What made things worse for Noah was that Hoiberg said in an interview with Grantland two days into the season that it was the proud veteran who had come to him and asked to come off the bench. Noah said a couple days later that wasn't the case and the pair's relationship was frosty moving forward.
Noah struggled in his new role off the bench. He wasn't used to the rhythm. He hated playing just 20 minutes a night and sitting on the bench at the end of games. Most of all, he hated not being able to help his teammates. After games, he struggled to discuss how he felt because he was so frustrated at the situation. This was supposed to be a new year, a fresh start, but he struggled to find his niche after five years under former coach Tom Thibodeau.
Still, Noah persevered and didn't rock the boat. He knew how much clout he held within the Bulls' locker room and wanted to set a good example for the rest of his teammates. After his best game of the season, a Dec. 21 loss to the New York Knicks, it appeared as if he was ready to turn a corner. He scored 21 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and played with the type of fierce energy and passion that defined his career.
The fact that he did it a night after a four-overtime defeat to the Detroit Pistons was lost on nobody who had followed his career. Noah always wanted to set the tone for the rest of his teammates to follow. Just when it appeared Noah was ready to turn the corner in his season, he followed that up the next night by suffering a small tear in his left shoulder which put him out for almost a month.
More rehab and work in the gym followed. As was the case in the summer, Noah and those closest to him felt that better days were ahead. They believed that once he got on the floor and started playing that he would ride a better wave into the playoffs and help push the Bulls to a higher place. As has been the case lately for the emotional 7-footer, the storybook ending just wasn't met to be.
Noah returned on Jan. 11, only to have his season likely end four days later because of impending left shoulder surgery. The possibility that Noah has played his last game as a Bull is real, given that his contract runs out at the end of the season. He has given the organization everything he could over close to a decade, but both sides may decide it is time for a fresh start elsewhere, especially if the Bulls aren't willing to make a financial commitment to Noah's liking.
In the short term, Noah's injury should be a reminder to Bulls executives Gar Forman and John Paxson that it's time to re-work the roster. There was always a belief within the organization that if the dominoes fell the right way the Bulls could still make a major push in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Without Noah, those feelings are far-fetched -- at best. Even in a diminished role, Noah was still a catalyst for the Bulls on and off the floor. Yes, the Bulls went on a six-game winning streak without him recently, but without his leadership it's hard to imagine any scenario in which the Bulls rebound from this loss and improve.
Rookie Bobby Portis will be given more a chance to shine in Noah's absence and should get even more minutes to prove what he can do. Forman and Paxson would be wise to deal Pau Gasol, who has a player option at the end of this season, and consider any other move that puts them in a better situation for the future -- not get stuck in the present.
The Bulls could have defied the odds with Noah helping push them past LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but that was always more dream than reality. The discussion on whether Noah and the Bulls decide to continue their marriage in the future can wait. Noah's injury should serve as the final nail in a season that just wasn't meant to be. The positivity never lasted long enough for Noah or the Bulls.