Jan 10, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) during the game against the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Chicago won 81-72. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bulls: Joakim Noah Earns Straight A’s As Temporary Face Of The Franchise

With Derrick Rose out with a knee injury and Luol Deng in Cleveland, Joakim Noah has been elevated from quirky role player to face of the franchise, at least until Rose is back on the court.

He made his first comments in that role on Saturday when he addressed the trade of Deng, who was his teammate for six-plus seasons, ever since he arrived in Chicago as the No. 9 overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft.

“The trade definitely hurt,” Deng told USA Today. “I know a lot of people say this is a business and all that, but this game is more than a business to me. I put everything I’ve got into this. I feel like Lu was the same way, so it was hard for me to digest. But that’s just my perspective. Everybody has a different job. I’m not mad at anybody. I’m not mad at the organization or anything like that. It’s just that my brother isn’t here, so I just need time to digest that.”

In the year of the “T”-word, the first thought many analysts had when Deng was dealt to the Cavaliers for a bushel-basket full of future draft picks and the corpse of Andrew Bynum’s NBA career was that Chicago’s front office was embracing the concept, looking to lose and accumulate ping pong balls for May’s draft lottery.

If that’s the case, Noah didn’t get the memo.

“There’s no tanking,” Noah said. “There’s none of that. We’re going to go out and give it 150 percent. When (our jerseys) say ‘Chicago Bulls,’ I want people to be proud of that. Whether we have four guys out, no matter who’s hurt, we’re going to give 150 percent win or lose. I know people in this city are proud of that.”

The Bulls walked the walk behind that statement, winning their first three games after the Deng trade before losing to the Wizards 102-88 on Monday night.

Through Tuesday night’s games, Chicago is 17-19, tied with Washington for the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference and two games (one in the loss column) behind fourth-place Atlanta.

Whether the front office wants to increase its chances in the draft or not, Noah’s absolutely right. Tanking isn’t the business for the guys wearing the uniforms. Their job is to play, play hard and try to play well. Cruise control is unacceptable.

As a long-time follower of the NBA, that might be the most welcome change I’ve seen since my early days watching the game. I remember a player for the Golden State Warriors, a former No. 1 overall draft pick as a matter of fact, who was so nonchalant about the game that he earned the nickname “Joe Barely Cares.” Joe Barry Carroll was the player and while he put up some decent numbers for a few years, he did it in a way that infuriated coaches and teammates alike, because it was plain to see that Joe Barry was going to do what Joe Barry was going to do … and not one speck more.

There’s a lot less of that in today’s NBA, even with front offices doing everything but holding press conferences to announce, “Hell, yes, we want to lose … we want to lose huge. These guys we currently have are awful and we’ve got to replace them with better talent.”

So if you’re a fan of the Bulls and you’re starting to get caught up in the idea of losing to gain, remember that the guys on the court aren’t going to be willing participants in such a scheme.

For starters, it just runs counter to the DNA of most athletes.

But even more importantly, the job you might be playing to fill with a high draft pick … might be your own.

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