Chicago Bulls looking to repair relationship with Noah

One of the Chicago Bulls' primary tasks for the off-season is to rebuild their relationship with Joakim Noah.

Noah had a rough year and it was a contributing factor to the Bulls' disappointing season.

New coach Fred Hoiberg watched video and didn't think Noah and Pau Gasol played well together. He wanted to try bringing one of them off the bench and knew Noah was the right candidate because he wouldn't complain.

Noah did his best and actually embraced the bench role, even though he wasn't happy about it. For a while, the reserves were the first group to excel at Hoiberg's offensive system, with Noah basically playing point center and setting an example for sharing the ball.

But then Noah twice injured his left shoulder. The second incident on Jan. 15, required surgery and knocked him out for the season. With Noah sidelined, the Bulls clearly missed his intensity and team-first attitude. The defense went in the tank as the Bulls failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in eight years.

It was mentioned here a few weeks ago how much Noah's absence contributed to the Bulls' second-half slide. The Bulls apparently agree and have decided to make re-signing Noah a high priority this summer, according to a team source.

When he spoke to reporters after his shoulder surgery, Noah wouldn't comment specifically on his free-agent status but mentioned a few times that this is all he knows as an NBA player.

Obviously, that means he's comfortable in Chicago and is interested in staying.

After a disappointing season, the Bulls probably should go back to what worked in the past — using Noah's fire and defense as a spark. He has endured two straight injury-plagued seasons but was feeling good until dislocating his shoulder Dec. 21.

The Bulls will be hoping that was a fluke and surgery solved the problem.

But after last season's demotion, will Noah embrace a return to the Bulls? He's free to go anywhere and, with the salary cap taking a big leap, pretty much every NBA team will have the means to give him a maximum contract offer.

That's why it would be smart for the Bulls to make sure Noah understands they don't take him for granted, if they haven't communicated that already.

It's also possible Noah holds the key to the Bulls' ability to make a free-agent splash this summer. One of the top players on the market will be Atlanta's Al Horford, Noah's former teammate at Florida.

After the Bulls played the Hawks on March 28 at the United Center, Noah and Horford had a long conversation. Did they talk about playing together next season? Who knows, but it's a path the Bulls should explore.

Keep in mind, if Kevin Durant leaves Oklahoma City, another option for Noah and Horford would be to sign with the Thunder and reunite with their college coach, Billy Donovan.

If Gasol opts out of his deal, as expected, the Bulls should have around $24 million to spend in free agency. They may need to unload more salaries to have a realistic chance at the Noah-Horford plan.

The Bulls also could pursue the third wheel from the Gators' two national championship teams, Houston swingman Corey Brewer. His contract is a tough one, with $15 million spread over the next two years, but Mike Dunleavy and Tony Snell might get it done, since that trade would save the Rockets some money.

Those moves are wishful thinking right now. It all starts with convincing Noah to stick with the Bulls.

If both Noah and Gasol leave this summer, there will be a gaping hole in the Bulls' roster, with 30 teams bidding for available centers.

If the Bulls don't keep Noah and Gasol, the list of unrestricted free agents includes Miami's Hassan Whiteside, Dallas' Zaza Pachulia, Indiana's Ian Mahinmi, Cleveland's Timofey Mozgov, Charlotte's Al Jefferson, the Lakers' Roy Hibbert, Washington's Nene, Golden State's Marreese Speights and others.

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Steve Lundy/slundy@dailyherald.comChicago Bulls center Joakim Noah celebrates after a dunk during game 5 of the Eastern Conference first-round series at the United Center in Chicago Monday.
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