- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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MILWAUKEE -- Early in his career, Joakim Noah used to choose his words a lot more freely. He spoke without thinking, and it would get him into trouble sometimes.
As he has gotten older, he chooses his words a lot more carefully and decides not to speak at all sometimes. The irony is by not having spoken for the past week, Noah might find himself in trouble yet again.
The usually outgoing and accommodating Noah has gone into a shell in regard to speaking to the media over the past week since former teammate Luol Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers late Monday night. He did it again after Friday's win over the Milwaukee Bucks, telling reporters that he would speak after Saturday's game against the Charlotte Bobcats.
The problem for Noah is that the longer his self-imposed media ban drags on, the bigger deal it becomes. If the league decides to look into the matter -- or if Noah declines to speak to the media again after Saturday's game -- it's likely a fine will be forthcoming. Noah's decision not to speak again on Friday surely disappointed several members of the Bulls organization who asked the emotional center to get his media obligations over with by talking for a few minutes about the Deng trade and putting it behind him.
While it remains unclear exactly why Noah still hasn't addressed the matter, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand why he is still upset. Not only was he close to Deng, he also understands that the Deng deal means the Bulls are as far away from a championship as they've been in several seasons. Bulls executive vice president John Paxson said Tuesday that the Bulls aren't rebuilding -- but they aren't going after a championship this season, either.
In many ways, Noah's stance represents the way a lot of his teammates still feel. They understood that their championship aspirations went down the toilet when Derrick Rose tore the medial meniscus in his right knee on Nov. 22, but the Deng deal brought that reality home even harder for Noah. Deng was the man Noah leaned on to keep his emotions in check on the floor. With Deng gone, Noah has to come to grips with the fact that he must continue playing in a season that means little to the organization.
Even if it was the right move for the future, it was -- and still is -- a tough pill for Noah to swallow. He and his teammates are wondering what they are playing for this season, knowing full well that many Bulls fans -- and maybe even some people within the organization -- are hoping this team slides all the way into the draft lottery.
Knowing this, depending on how one looks at the situation, Noah might actually be showing a little maturity in not speaking. Having covered him for almost five years now, my educated guess is that Noah remains muted because he is afraid of what may come out of his mouth. Sure, he has a responsibility to talk -- the league enacted a new set of guidelines before the season saying that players had to speak before or after shootaround and/or before a game. Plus, every player was expected to be available to speak after games.
Noah has violated those rules for the past week, but few media members have complained given how much time the usually fun-loving center has given to writers/broadcasters in the past. If he knows he is going to say something critical regarding the organization, then he is probably best served by not speaking.
Is it the biggest deal in the world if Noah continues on with his policy? No, but the league is not going to be happy if he continues not to speak because millions of Bulls fans are interested in what he has to say every day -- especially on a topic as sensitive as Deng's deal.
Noah might very well be showing restraint by closing his mouth, but there comes a time when fans won't view the restraint as anything more than a frustrated player who is too angry at the past to look toward the future. That time creeps closer the longer he keeps his mouth shut.