DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah said Monday that he's 100 percent healthy heading into the season.
"Everything's feeling great," Noah said. "I think that all this extra time, I did a lot of rehab. I had a pretty serious ankle injury at the end of the season last year and it took me a while to get that back to 100 percent, but all this extra time actually got me ... I'm feeling great. I'm healthy. I'm 100 percent and I'm ready to go."
Noah missed 34 games a season ago after tearing a ligament in his thumb in late November and injuring his ankle in late March. The ankle injury was severe enough that before Noah could be cleared for insurance to play on the French National Team earlier this summer, he was sent home from Paris so that the Bulls team physicians could check him out.
"As a player, that's the worst thing, just having to handle [injuries]," he said. "Mentally, it's really tough. Just not being able to be out there and perform the way you want to perform.
"Now, it's a good feeling to feel healthy and all this lockout stuff definitely puts things in perspective. I don't really like to talk about it, but at the same time it makes you realize how much you've missed playing with your teammates and how privileged we are playing in these unbelievable arenas and playing at the highest level. It's cool."
What's also cool for Noah is that he comes into camp with the knowledge that his rookie deal is finally over. He is in the first year of a five-year deal worth almost $60 million. It's a deal he signed during training camp a season ago. He is anxious to get the chance to knock off the Miami Heat this time around if the teams meet in the Eastern Conference finals after being knocked out in five games last season.
"Losing the way we lost last year was definitely hard and definitely extra motivation for the summer," he said. "Just for workouts and stuff like that. I know I wasn't happy with the way it ended at all. It was very hard for me. It took me a while to get back from that and I think that's just a normal reaction. I even watched a couple of the games in the summertime. It was pretty depressing stuff."
Noah, who said he would be comfortable if the Bulls decided not to make a move and kept last year's team intact, truly believes his team can get past the Heat this season.
"But at the same time, you realize that the games were really close," he continued. "And it really comes down to one or two possessions. So we're a young team and we have to use that to our advantage and learn from our mistakes because we can play better than we did last year. A lot of people say we maximized [our talent] and all that, but I don't think so. I think we can do better."
One of the areas Noah believes he can get better is as a defender playing alongside veteran power forward Carlos Boozer. The injury-riddled pair struggled at times to find cohesion when they played together.
"That's definitely something we need to do better," Noah said. "We have to get better defensively. And I think that we definitely can. And it's on us to do a better job defensively to get over that hump."
Noah believes that the improvement on the defensive end is one of the biggest reasons why the Bulls can ultimately get to where they want to go this year, whether they add another piece or not.
"As a player, I don't think it's on us to talk about that," he said of potential free agent moves. "And those aren't things that we can control. I feel like the only things that we can control as players is how hard we go in practice. How bad we want to improve individually, and hopefully that will be enough to take us over the peak."