On the surface, Chicago Bulls forward Joakim Noah’s two-game suspension seems like a no-brainer.
Noah had an altercation with his assistant coach. He had reportedly been late for team meetings and functions. And early in the season, he was reprimanded for lashing out at his new teammates based upon what he perceived to be a lack of effort on their part.
The sports fan in you knows that rookies need to shut their mouths and play ball.
However, if you’re a sports fan in Chicago, you have much bigger problems than a frontcourt player with an attitude.
Interim head coach Jim Boylan suspended Noah for one game, sending a message to him loud and clear. But the remainder of the Bulls roster felt that the suspension was too short—and convinced Boylan to increase its length by another game.
So instead of having one player who thinks he’s above his coach, you’ve got a locker room full of them.
There’s a reason you haven’t heard of a story like this before in professional sports, and it’s not because Noah is the first player to butt heads with a coach or miss a meeting. It’s because head coaches don't make habits of being persuaded into action by their own players—whether their suggestions are valid or not.
Did the Bulls players have the best interests of the team and Noah in mind regarding the added suspension time?
"We still need to salvage this season," forward Adrian Griffin said. "We're still fighting for the playoffs. There can't be any distractions for us."
Griffin is right about the team’s need to minimize distractions. However, Boylan’s inability to handle the situation properly has just created one.
Instead of doubling the suspension time for Noah, Boylan should have spoken to him privately about his teammates' concerns. He should have conveyed their feelings to the free-spirited forward with conviction and force, and taught a valuable lesson to a young, talented, and sometimes volatile player.
But he should have left the suspension at one game.
Coaches coach. Players play. The minute you let your team know they actually do call some of the shots is the minute you begin relieving yourself of duty.
"The team has sent him a message," Boylan said before Sunday’s game against Atlanta. "I think he's smart enough to realize what he has to do."
One would hope that the next time tempers boil over in Chicago, Boylan will be smart enough to know that he’s the one being paid to deliver that kind of message.