Chicago Bulls: Real Joakim Noah Is Back, and Why Cut Mike James Instead of Lucas

Darrell HorwitzSenior Writer IIJanuary 30, 2012

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 13:  Joakim Noah #13 of the Chicago Bulls celebrates his basket in the first quarter against the Boston Celtics on January 13, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Joakim Noah is a guy who likes to party and have a good time, so maybe he was still in party mode when the season started, because he wasn't the same guy Chicago Bulls fans have grown to love.

Thought of by many as the heart of the team, Noah seemed lethargic and just not into the games. He didn't seem to be into it either physically or mentally. You could see the strain on his face when interviewed, like he didn't have an answer for it either, but there is good news.

Joakim Noah is back.

He's playing like the guy the Bulls invested $60 million in.

Without him, the Bulls could forget having any chance to beat the Heat. Even with him they might come up short, but his fire and energy make up for his overall lack of talent, especially on the offensive end of the court.

You could see the energy back in his step, and that was magnified Friday night against the Milwaukee Bucks when he pulled down 16 boards and scored 15 points. He added 11 points and 11 rebounds against the Heat for his fourth double-double in a row, and fifth out of his last six games.

In contrast, he didn't get his first until Game 7, and only had two in his first 13 games.

In fact, in his first 12 games, he only reached double-digits in rebounds in four of them. In his last nine, he has grabbed 10 or more rebounds eight times.

If Derrick Rose is the engine that drives Chicago, then Noah is the transmission that gets them into gear.

His hustle and enthusiasm fires up his teammates. He energizes the crowd at the United Center, and that's why his poor start made people wonder what was wrong with him.

Now that he's back to being Joakim Noah, I'm wondering why the Bulls decided to keep John Lucas lll instead of Mike James, who they just waived.

I know Lucas was with them last year and is familiar with their system, but when he comes into the game, the offense seems to bog down.

It may seem like an insignificant move, but it's magnified with C.J. Watson missing games.

Watson is an excellent backup. Even though he's not Rose, they're still able to play their game without a huge drop-off. That can't be said when Lucas comes into the game.

I know everyone got excited when he scored 25 points in a game earlier this year, but it took 28 shots to get them.

He doesn't seem to involve his teammates, and spends most of the clock dribbling around wasting time and taking bad shots. That was evident in Sunday's game against the Heat.

Rose went out with two fouls about five minutes into the game and Lucas replaced him. The offense was stagnant, and Rose was soon back into the game probably much earlier than planned so the Bulls didn't get blown out.

You're not asking Lucas to be Rose, or even Watson. After all, he is a third-stringer, but you are asking him to at least attempt to execute the offense, and he doesn't seem capable of doing that.

Other than Lucas' "breakout" game, he hasn't done anything for the Bulls. In three games with 20 minutes of playing time and two with 15, he has never had more than two assists other than that one game.

James, on the other hand, only had one opportunity to get some minutes with the Bulls and had nine points and 10 assists in just 17 minutes of playing time. The offense didn't miss a beat with James running the show.

It makes you wonder why the Bulls decided to keep Lucas instead of James.

While James has had a 10-year NBA career and played in 531 games, Lucas appeared in just 76 games, never averaging more than 8.2 minutes a contest until this year.

James played 25.1 minutes a game over his career, averaging 10.4 points and 3.6 assists, including scoring 20.3 points and 5.8 assists in 2005-06 with the Toronto Raptors.

Lucas was out of the league after the 2006-07 season until the Bulls picked him up last season. His career numbers are so insignificant, I won't even mention them.

What is significant is the effect it could have on Rose if Watson misses any more games. Lucas never came back into the game against Miami, so Rose had to play 45 minutes.

He would have played a lot anyway with the Bulls trying to make a statement against Miami after last year's playoff debacle, but that may bite them in the butt going forward.

Rose is still nursing his toe issue, and that can flare up anytime.

At least with James as your third option, you have a seasoned veteran who you can count on to play under control. Lucas is more like a laboratory mouse that you are experimenting with.

He puts Rose at risk by not being a viable option to get minutes if you need them.

It might not make a big difference, or determine who wins the championship this year, but even the 12th man on the bench could have a say on the final outcome because of the unknown.

If that's the case, I don't want that man to be Lucas.


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