There is a limit to how far the Chicago Bulls should go to transform their roster this summer.
Joakim Noah is that limit.
In their attempt to upgrade the roster and improve their standing within the exceedingly wacky Eastern Conference, the Bulls are prepared to do whatever—and sacrifice whomever—it takes, according to The Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley:
“They are looking to exhaust as many assets as it will take,’’ one source said of general manager Gar Forman and head of basketball operations John Paxson.
This would imply that there is really no one on the roster who's untouchable. Cowley leads us to believe the only things preventing Derrick Rose from becoming available is his bill of health and the $60-plus million remaining on his contract, each a reason for other teams to stay away.
But this report suggests something else, something worse: Noah isn't untouchable.
If true, that means the Bulls are willing to trade the one player who should be off-limits, which, as you can guess, would be a massive mistake.
Selling a Selling Point
Not for a minute should we believe that the Bulls are gearing up for a Noah trade or actively dangling him in negotiations. His departure is beyond unlikely. Yet it's the mere thought of the Bulls being open to trading Noah that's unsettling.
Who are the Bulls lusting after at the possible expense of Noah?
Better yet, who out there is worth giving up Noah?
Carmelo Anthony remains "Plan A" in Chicago, per Cowley. Jackie MacMullan of ESPN Boston informed us that the Bulls have firmly entrenched themselves in the Kevin Love sweepstakes as well, so they are chasing superstars.
Neither Love nor Melo should cost them Noah. Anthony is expected to become a free agent, and while the Bulls must tweak their financial outlook to make him an offer, that includes amnestying Carlos Boozer and unloading some combination of first-round picks, Mike Dunleavy, Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson. Noah won't be part of any salary dump, no matter how extensive.
He also won't be shipped off to the Minnesota Timberwolves in any Love deal. Sean Deveney of the Sporting News brought word that their asking price is insanely high, but they have Nikola Pekovic and Gorgui Dieng on the docket already. Housing Noah would give them an excess of centers in a point guard's league.
So yeah, trading Noah, or even making him available, denotes something bigger—something with summer 2015 implications, as Sam Smith of Bulls.com previously described:
Phil’s got to get a star if he loses Anthony. I’ve heard this one: The Knicks get Noah and the Bulls get Tyson Chandler, a good expiring deal so they can go after Kevin Love next year, and Iman Shumpert, who is from Chicago and a good defender who Thibs would like and Pablo Prigioni, a good backup point if they lose Augustin and Hinrich.
On the list of things that are never, ever going to happen, shipping Noah off to New York is at the top, behind only the inventions of self-replenishing pizza boxes and aesthetically appealing parachute pants.
Even if moving Noah came in conjunction with signing or trading for Anthony, it makes less sense than willingly participating in selfie tournaments. The only benefit is that the Bulls possibly open up cap space for 2015 so they can possibly go after another superstar—LeBron James, Kevin Love, etc.—who they might just possibly sign.
Noah doesn't fall under the list of players you dump for extra cap space, especially when Jimmy Butler will be due a pricey extension that eats up much of the flexibility that trading the ponytailed center creates.
Which star free agents would want to play for the Bulls after they discarded Noah like that anyway? He's one of the primary reasons they're relevant at all this offseason.
It's Noah who has already been recruiting Anthony, according to Cowley:
According to several sources, including a teammate, Noah’s All-Star Weekend “conversation’’ with New York Knicks standout Carmelo Anthony didn’t end in New Orleans. They had discussions via text the rest of the season, including the day after the Bulls were eliminated in the playoffs by the Washington Wizards.
Think Melo or anyone else will find the Bulls as attractive without Noah?
No. A bazillion times over, no.
Playing without Noah leaves any potentially incoming stars on an island, by themselves, hoping against hope that Rose holds up for an entire season. And let's face it, that's a lonely, secluded place no one wants to be.
Collateral damage is unavoidable. If the Bulls are serious about becoming players this summer and next, they must make some tough decisions and sacrifice talent they would rather keep.
It takes talent to get talent. We get it.
But it doesn't take superstars to get superstars or create the means to maybe get superstars. Noah is above such gaming techniques.
As the Bulls' best player, he's out of reach in any scenario that doesn't land Kevin Durant, James or a rejuvenated Michael Jordan in the Windy City.
Yes, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year is their best player. It's not Rose. Not right now. That ship has sailed.
Rose has appeared in just 50 games—playoffs and regular season—since 2011-12. His absence has left others to hold down the fort. Up until this year that meant Noah and Luol Deng. Following Deng's move to Cleveland, that meant Noah.
The big man is coming off a career season. He led the Bulls in assists, rebounds and blocks while averaging a personal-best 12.6 points per game.
Only four players in NBA history have registered at least 12 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, one steal and one block per night for an entire season. Noah is now one of them. And he joins a celebrated cast that includes two Hall of Famers in Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as well as an inevitable first-ballot Hall of Famer in Kevin Garnett.
What Noah did this past season was just incredible. Nothing less. He earned All-Star honors and the lone All-NBA First Team selection of his career. He ranked ninth in win shares (11.2), ahead of fellow stars like Dirk Nowitzki and Melo, Paul George and Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard and Serge Ibaka.
And the list goes on. It just goes on and on and on.
In Rose's absence, he was Chicago's primary playmaker. He notched four triple-doubles. He was the linchpin who spearheaded a second-ranked defense.
Out of necessity, Noah has become the face of the Bulls. You don't trade the face of your team when you have no idea if the seat he's warming will ever be reclaimed by its previous owner.
Unlikely for a Reason
This bears repeating: Noah isn't going anywhere.
Unless there's some offer that truly blows the Bulls away, it's not worth their time. They know this, and that's basically what his exclusion from the "untouchable" ranks means.
Building around Noah isn't ideal. He is not the perfect foundation. He has injury problems of his own and was even forced to undergo "minor" arthroscopic surgery after Chicago's playoff exit, per CSN Chicago's Aggrey Sam. Limitations as a scorer also curb his stock.
But Noah is more important to the Bulls than anyone his departure could bring. He is their motor, their heart. If the Cleveland Cavaliers came calling, dangling the No. 1 pick in the Bulls' face as part of a deal for Noah—like ESPN.com's Chad Ford (subscription required) said they were considering—there's no guarantee general manager Gar Forman would even entertain the offer.
That's how important Noah is to this team.
"Because our MVP is not playing," Noah said of his disdain for "MVP" chants from fans back in March, per Bulls.com. "We have one MVP, and that's Derrick Rose."
Noah was both right and wrong then.
The Bulls have only one MVP right now.
His name isn't Derrick Rose.
It's Joakim Noah.
And he's untouchable.