Posted Nov 21 2010 1:23PM
DALLAS -- There's no truth to the rumor that Joakim Noah bulked up for this season lifting his wallet. But there's no denying the floppy-haired (near) 7-footer entered his fourth pro season with a different physique.
Just look at him. He's thicker. He's chiseled.
Noah, 25, admitted there was some pressure to step up his game, and his approach to training, knowing this was a big offseason. As a member of the 2007 draft class, he was eligible to sign an extension before this season, so he hit the weight room as his people and Chicago's front office talked about the future.
Noah would be one of just five from that draft group -- joining Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Mike Conley, and Jared Dudley -- to sign an extension before the current CBA expires after this season. That Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf committed $60 million for five more years when they didn't have to shows the franchise's, well, commitment to Noah as a franchise pillar.
"It's not an ideal situation for them because of the [possible] lockout coming up," Noah said recently. "The reason he made me sign it was because he believed in me and he really liked me as a person. That meant a lot to me, hearing that from my boss."
And there were all those Carmelo Anthony rumors regarding Noah. Some league insiders questioned the logic of Chicago not willing to part with Noah in a deal for a top-five-caliber talent. The man at the center of the debate dealt with 'Melo speculation, especially as it heated up during September, and reiterated at every turn his desire to remain in the Windy City.
"What was exciting about this offseason was I knew we had a real solid core of players and I knew management was really excited about getting a big-time player," Noah said. "I felt in a really privileged situation playing in Chicago, a great sports town, and playing with the best point guard in the NBA."
That point guard is Chicago's engine, its playmaker and an MVP candidate -- yes, MVP -- at 22 years old. Derrick Rose, though, quickly concedes that the Bulls' fire and fight flows out of No. 13.
"We can be down 20 points and I know of all the people on the court, he's going to be the one still fighting to the end," Rose said. "When you have somebody like that it makes you want to play harder and everybody else play harder. We need him on this team."
Rose added that if there was a stat for grit, Noah would "have a lot of points in it." Tenacity was his calling card as a two-time national champion at Florida and it's a major ingredient in the personality the Bulls are trying to create.
"I'm part of it," Noah said. "When you look at our team, everybody has their role. I think that's what we want our identity to be -- tough, grind it out, we don't care who we're playing. We're going to pick you up, we're going to play defense, we're going to be gritty and we're going to fight."
There's no question Rose and Noah are the main reasons Central Division-leading Chicago (7-4) is not only treading water, but winning without Carlos Boozer. The summer free-agent prize could return to practice in the next week and make his Chicago debut shortly thereafter.
Boozer is coming back to a pretty good squad and should form a pretty salty frontline with Noah, who helped lock down an impressive win Friday at Dallas with 10 points, 17 rebounds, five assists and two steals in nearly 41 minutes.
"When he plays high energy like that and he really goes after the ball, to me there may not be a better guy in terms of activity," first-year Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
"[Noah] and Rose are the two guys that drive that team," Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. "Rose is sort of the guy that keeps the pressure on you offensively and Noah is the guy who's going to get the ball all the time. He's not just a rebounder.
"He gets it, he makes that shot, he's a very good driver -- an underrated driver of the ball. He gets to the free-throw line. He brings an enthusiasm to their team. Both those guys really keep the rest of their club juiced. The rest of the guys are persistent, hard-playing guys by nature. It's a tough team to play."
Thibodeau was well aware of Noah's motor as an assistant in Boston. Seeing the son of former French tennis great Yannick Noah in the gym every day, Chicago's new skipper has developed a better appreciation for Joe's all-around game, including that unconventional chest heave he calls a jumper.
Noah has racked up eight double-doubles through the first 11 games. He's second in the league in rebounding at 13.3 and is averaging 14.9 points while shooting 53.1 percent from the floor.
"He's a better offensive player than I thought," Thibodeau said. "I always knew his energy, the way he competed. You feel that when you're on the opposing bench, you can just see that, but when he raises up to shoot the ball, because it's unorthodox, you don't think it's as accurate as it is. I watched him shoot all summer and the ball goes in."
The Bulls will take it. Noah has and he's giving back all he can.
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