- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Joakim Noah just got exactly what he wanted.
The 25-year-old center desperately wanted to remain in Chicago and after agreeing, in principle, to a five-year deal worth around $60 million on Sunday night, he'll be able to do just that.
So how did this deal finally get done?
For starters, it wasn't just Noah who wanted to stay in Chicago. The Bulls organization wanted him to stay just as badly.
When ESPNChicago.com reported several weeks ago that the Bulls were having internal discussions about the possibility of dealing Noah to Denver as part of a deal for Carmelo Anthony, I was told repeatedly by team sources that while there had been discussions, Noah wasn't going anywhere. It wasn't just the Carmelo deal that was out of the discussion. I was assured he wasn't going to be part of any deal in the foreseeable future.
I can already hear people asking the same questions right now though?
Is Noah really worth $60 million? And why wouldn't the Bulls include in him in a possible deal for Anthony?
Let's go with the money issue first.
Whether you agree with the Bulls line of thinking or not (and there are certainly plenty of people on both sides), the team always held steadfast to the belief that it was much closer to a championship with Noah than it was without him. He is, without question, the vocal and spiritual leader of the squad. He has total respect in the locker room and he is the player that all his other teammates feed off of.
He's going to be paid that $60 million because he is expected to be the anchor in new head coach Tom Thibodeau's defense. He is going to be the man charged with keeping the interior intact, especially with the news on Sunday that Carlos Boozer will miss the next eight weeks after falling over a bag in his home and breaking a bone in his right hand. Noah will be the guy snagging every rebound, and he'll also be the one barking out most of the defensive switches down low. He's going to body up against Dwight Howard for years to come, and he's the center the Bulls believe will help give them an advantage against the Miami Heat -- at least down low. In short, the Bulls believe that he is already one of the best centers in the game and are convinced he is only going to get better. The proof of that last statement comes in the amount of dollars, and years, the team has agreed to give him during the duration of this deal. Everybody is always looking for size in the NBA and the Bulls feel like they have found their centerpiece to play alongside Derrick Rose.
Make no mistake, the team would not have agreed to such a figure unless they were fairly certain that the plantar fasciitis issues, which hampered Noah so much last season, were a thing of the past. He worked with the training staff throughout the summer so that his feet were in solid shape for the beginning of camp and the team even questioned him about his new "funky" shoes in order to try and alleviate the problem. Neither party believes it will be a recurring issue down the line.
So why didn't the Bulls pull the trigger on a Noah for Melo swap?
For all the reasons I just listed above, plus a few more:
Anthony is a superstar and one of the best players in the league, but aside from being one of the NBA's most gifted scorers, he hasn't shown he can play the type of quality defense championship teams are built upon. How were the Bulls going to be a better team if they had to give up Noah, Luol Deng and possibly Taj Gibson or James Johnson plus picks and cash? They still weren't going to be able to beat Miami, Orlando, Boston or the Lakers this season with that lineup.
Why not just make the deal for Anthony and plug in any serviceable center in Noah's place?
Who would that center be? There are plenty of people out there saying that the Bulls have overvalued Noah in this whole process, but they don't have a reasonable answer as to whom the team would replace him with if it the deal had been made. Aside from Howard and possibly Brook Lopez or Andrew Bynum, is there a better young center in the league right now? Noah's former University of Florida teammate Al Horford is another possibility but he mostly plays the power forward position, isn't as tall, and doesn't figure to be as good of a rebounder or defender over time.
Another reason the Bulls didn't feel the need to make a deal for Anthony is because they feel already have the type of superstar who will be able to close out games and become a future MVP in Rose. The 21 year-old point guard has the best work ethic on the team and is hungry to become the best in the game. Like Anthony, he has the ability to take over games and carry a team by himself. With that in mind, the Bulls are convinced if they surround Rose with other core players, such as Noah, they will be closer to knocking off those upper-echelon teams.
They're convinced that the long road back to a title was shorter by building around Rose, Noah and Boozer than it was Anthony, Rose and Boozer. In time, they believe they can find another potent scorer to go alongside Rose in the backcourt and feel as if the frontcourt is settled for years to come now with Boozer and Noah. They know how hard it would be to replace the heart and soul of their team and they weren't willing to go through the process of finding a new one.
Does this mean that this Bulls team, as currently constructed, can start winning championships right away? I don't think so. I still think they are at least another piece or two away, and may not be able to land another star until they can get Deng's mega deal off the books in a few years.
But, like it or not, the Bulls feel as if it would be easier to find another Anthony-esque scorer than it would be to find another Noah. Thibodeau, of all people, might have summed up the organization's thought process best recently when he stated that Noah was "one of a kind." Obviously, the Bulls feel the same way and backed up those words on Sunday night.
19hMatt Walks, ESPN.com
1dMatt Walks, ESPN.com