After Chicago traded two-time All-Star Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Noah went dark, refusing to speak with the media, likely hoping to ensure he didn't comment on anything that would cause extraneous uproars. Following the Bulls' 103-97 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats, he opened up about everything, from Deng to tanking to his team in general.
"The trade definitely hurt, but we gotta move on," Noah said during his postgame interview, per CSN Chicago. "I feel confident in this team. We're working really hard."
Their diligence following Deng's departure shows.
The Bulls are a perfect 3-0 since Deng was shipped to Cleveland and at 17-18, have the Eastern Conference's fifth-best record, firmly planting themselves in the playoff conversation. But while Chicago's continued resilience may have softened the blow of losing Deng, Noah remains slightly rattled.
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.
Noah's comments are almost mathematical; candid yet calculated.
Not long ago, he wasn't one to water down comments or censor his thoughts. Whatever he was thinking—however brash—was shared publicly.
Now older and more mature, the 28-year-old Noah is smarter, having found balance between aboveboard emotions and intelligible word choice. You'll never see him play the part of a drone, hardened to the "business" of basketball, but you'll rarely see him lose control, either. He has a handle on his intensity.
You'll never see him forget the reason he's really here, why he continues to wade through the tragedy and red tape, even when the Bulls embrace a movement he's doesn't exactly sanction.
No matter what, he'll never stop playing. Never stop working.
Never stop battling.
"I feel when I come to the game and see the guys selling newspapers on the street; it’s cold outside," Noah told reporters, via Bulls.com's Sam Smith. "He sees me driving and he’s excited. He’s like, 'Let’s go Bulls. Get it done tonight.' I feel I play for that guy."
Silence can be construed as disbelief or frustration, a tacit rejection of what is happening in Chicago, but Noah, despite his personal feelings, knows his job isn't done. And he wants the world to know the Bulls aren't waving any white flags.
"There's no tanking," he said defiantly, per Highkin. "There's none of that. We're going to go out and give it 150 percent."
Under head coach Tom Thibodeau—whose "next guy up" mantra has become famous—and playing for a team no stranger to adversity, Noah has no other choice. He has no other inclination.
General manager Gar Forman and the rest of Chicago's front office may not be done making trades. Sans Deng, the Bulls are still good enough to clinch a playoff berth in the woeful Eastern Conference but bad enough to where title contention is out of reach.
Out of necessity, in an effort to retool the roster through better draft positioning, more moves could be on the way.
But Noah doesn't care.
"I look in the arena when the team calls a timeout and see this guy who looks this big jump up and down (in the upper deck, 300 level)," Noah reiterated, via Smith. "That’s the guy I play for."
Deng or no Deng, Derrick Rose or no Derrick Rose, healthy roster or injury-plagued docket, Noah won't ever stop fighting.