the biggest reason Pau Gasol and the Bulls appear headed for a split in free agency has less to do with Gasol and more to do with Joakim Noah.
Though front-office meetings have yet to finalize the Bulls’ Plan A for this offseason, there is strong internal desire to re-sign Noah on a short-term deal. Noah long has been a favorite player and ambassador of Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Executive vice president John Paxson drafted Noah, and their bond is genuine.
The Bulls don’t necessarily need to choose between Noah and Gasol, but they might.
Noah wants to start, and it seems Gasol needs to start (though a new contract could change the importance to Gasol). But Chicago is also loaded with other big men: Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. Mirotic’s unique ability to stretch the floor among the group warrants him major minutes, and his age suggest he’s growing only more capable of a larger role. Ditto Portis.
Noah, on the other hand, is 31. He looked lost as a scorer before a season-ending injury, and his defense will diminish if he loses energy with age.
But Noah has said he hopes to re-sign with Chicago, where he has spent his entire NBA career. He’s a quality locker room presence, which could help with tension involving Jimmy Butler and Fred Hoiberg – though Noah would also have to get past his own issues with Hoiberg.
The Bulls have multiple problems. They need better chemistry, and they need better athletes capable of running Hoiberg’s offensive system. Noah can help the former, but not latter. It’s up to the front office to determine how to prioritize each and what that means for a contract offer to Noah.