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The Bulls' slow breakup with Joakim Noah is getting awkward

The Bulls' center reportedly isn't thrilled with coming off the bench, but coach Fred Hoiberg has no other choice. This sure looks like the prelude to the center's eventual departure.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Fred Hoiberg's first year with the Chicago Bulls was always going to be complicated. Whereas most new head coaches are brought in to fix floundering teams, Hoiberg was asked to take over for an admired head coach in Tom Thibodeau, who led the Bulls to five straight playoff berths.

But Bulls management pried the 43-year-old Hoiberg away from Iowa State because they thought he could add some spice to their often-stagnant offense. As part of that effort, Hoiberg has moved Joakim Noah out of the starting lineup.

Noah has played good solider thus far, but in an interview with The Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson, the veteran big man made it clear he's not pleased with his current role.

"I mean, I don't know what to say. I wasn't expecting to play such a limited role," Noah said. "I'm trying to stay focused on what I can do to help. That's it."

Not only is Noah now coming off the bench, but he's also playing just 22 minutes per game, his lowest total since his rookie year. His overall output has dropped -- he's hitting just 38 percent of his shots and averaging just 4.3 points to go along with 8.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists -- but the move has failed to boost Chicago's offense, which is no doubt frustrating him. The Bulls are scoring just 101 points per 100 possessions this year, the 10th-worst mark in the league. Last year, with Noah playing in tandem with Pau Gasol up front, they scored 104.7.


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Of course, there's still logic to Hoiberg's decision to shift Noah to the bench. Noah is 30 with a lot of mileage on his tires and has already missed nine games this year due to a shoulder injury. (The Bulls went 7-2 in those games, which adds to Hoiberg's case). Also, his jump shot is completely broken and he still has trouble finishing near the rim. The Bulls are 4.1 points per 100 possessions better offensively when Noah sits, per, and about even defensively.

But Noah, a two-time All Star and 2014 Defensive Player of the Year who's spent his entire career in Chicago and played a key role in the team's rise, is a competitor. It's understandable and not the least bit surprising that he believes the Bulls are better off with him on the floor.

"I want to play all the time. I think any competitor does. I've said that all along," Noah said. "But this (role) won't change my commitment to the team. I've never been about anything but winning and the team.

"I'm blessed to play this game for a living. Before the (shoulder) injury, I felt I was finding a rhythm. I just need to get back to that. I feel like I will."

The Bulls aren't really winning games, at least at the level they hoped. The Bulls are on a three-game losing streak and have repeatedly been unable to separate themselves from the rest of the crowded East pack. Chicago is in fourth place in the East at 22-15, but are just three-and-a-half games ahead of the ninth-seeded New York Knicks and Boston Celtics.

That's probably why Noah's name has slowly been popping up in trade rumors. The Bulls may think they're better off dealing him for a wing player, as Yahoo! Sports Adrian Wojnarowski recently suggested. He'll also be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, and the Bulls may prefer to recoup an asset as opposed to just letting him walk for nothing next summer.

Whatever the reason, the Bulls are in for an awkward four months. The Bulls were able to overcome the last internal strife involving one of their key players and Hoiberg, but adding a popular player like Noah to that list is only going to make Hoiberg's already difficult job even more complex.

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