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With Noah out, Thomas gets his chance

2/5/2010
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

The news that Joakim Noah is being shut down until after the All-Star break shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

Over the past two weeks, the plantar fasciitis in his left foot has been bothering him so badly that he has been having a hard time walking, let alone running up and down the floor.

"We got together with Joakim and our medical staff, and we were all in agreement that this was the best course of action," Chicago Bulls general manager Gar Forman told me on Friday morning. "Without some rest it wasn't going to get any better. It's obviously affecting him. He'll rest, get treatment and we'll re-evaluate it right after the All-Star Game. And hopefully at that point he's getting better."

But even the organization still isn't sure if that will do the trick. The usual course of action with an injury like this is to rest it for about six weeks. Noah is hopeful to be playing again in just over two. Nobody knows if that will be enough time.

"You don't know," Forman said. "You just don't know. But we were convinced it wasn't going to get better if he continued to try to play through it."

The Bulls will call up Noah's former teammate at the University of Florida, Chris Richard, from the developmental league to take Noah's place on the active roster. He was with the Bulls in training camp and will give them a beefy presence on the bench, but it is unclear whether he will play any meaningful minutes.

"It certainly hurts us," Forman said of Noah's injury. "Joakim is having a terrific year. He's a presence defensively with his length and activity. Obviously, he's a terrific rebounder. It's going to hurt us, but at the same time it's going to be a chance for other guys to step up."

Specifically, one guy should finally get the extended chance he's been waiting for all season: Tyrus Thomas.

The fourth-year forward has been trying to find minutes in Vinny Del Negro's rotation ever since he got back to the Bulls (broken forearm) after Christmas. He has the ability to provide the energy that Noah usually did. But that's a big if considering that his biggest problem all season has been consistency.

If Thomas is serious about taking the next step in his maturation process as a player he will take this opportunity and run with it. He has the ability and athleticism to be a stopgap until Noah returns. It will be interesting to see how he responds to the challenge.

In the meantime, the Bulls are just hoping that a little rest will get Noah back on track. It was clear to Forman and Co. that they couldn't continue to keep him in the lineup.

"Obviously he missed the Houston game, and then you could see at the tail end of the trip that it was affecting him some," Forman said of Noah's injury. "You could tell it was affecting him again in a couple games this week."

If Noah doesn't return to being the same player that he was earlier in the season, then any thoughts the Bulls had about making noise in the playoffs this year go out the window.

In the grand scheme of things though, the Bulls were smart to pull the plug on their young center. The Bulls know that they need to keep an eye on the future. Without a healthy Noah, that future, no matter what happens in free agency, doesn't look nearly as bright.