Joakim Noah to begin non-contact drills

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah is getting the cast taken off his right hand on Monday, and he'll begin traveling with the team.

Coach Tom Thibodeau believes Noah can begin non-contact drills on Tuesday -- although he spent time after practice on Monday working with Bulls ambassador Scottie Pippen -- and perhaps will be ready to play after the All-Star break. Noah will travel with the Bulls on Tuesday to Los Angeles, where the Bulls face the Clippers on Wednesday.

"With Jo, the next step is getting the cast off, which is going to happen today so you feel good about that," Thibodeau said. "And then he's going to have to work on basketball stuff. His timing, his touch, strengthening his hand.

"So he'll start the non-contact part of practice, and from there once he clears that he can practice with contact. And once he practices with contact then he'll be able to play. He's still pretty much on schedule. He's probably, the way we're looking at it right now, right after the All-Star break."

Taj Gibson also practiced Monday despite spraining his right ankle Saturday.

"I just want to come back as soon as possible," Noah said recently. "As soon as my hand is healthy, I want to be back there, regardless of what game it is."

Noah injured the thumb on Nov. 27 against the Sacramento Kings and had surgery to repair the torn ligament on Dec. 16.

"[I] get the cast off," Noah said. "I'm very excited about that. Another step closer."

Noah also was excited about being able to work with a Hall of Famer after practice.

"It was great," he said. "Just working hard. Working on my conditioning, get to work on my moves with Scottie Pippen. That's a pretty good privilege."

Noah had the pin taken out of his thumb last Tuesday. He said there was a minor complication during the procedure.

"The doctors did a great job getting the pin out. It was a little bent apparently," Noah said recently. "It's usually a 10-minute procedure, and it took a little bit longer than that. It's probably my fault. But I'm happy it's done. I don't have a pin in my finger anymore, and I'm just waiting for it to heal."

Noah wasn't sure why the pin was bent.

"Lifting weights or something," he said. "The doctor wasn't very happy about it. So Dr. [Mark] Cohen, I apologize. I made your job a little harder than you probably wanted to, but he's a nice guy, and I'm happy that he got the pin out without it breaking. I'm happy that I'll be back healthy soon."

Just getting the cast off was a major bright spot for Noah.

"Being in a cast, I'm claustrophobic," he said last week. "So at nights sometimes I freak out when I have the cast, but hey, four more days."

The Bulls are 17-6 without Noah, who is averaging 14 points and 11.6 rebounds.

Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.