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Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Xmas Countdown: Bulls will miss Thomas

By Nick Friedell

Joakim Noah and Omer Asik
Without Kurt Thomas, Omer Asik will see more minutes backing up Joakim Noah.

CHICAGO -- Kurt Thomas served as perfect example of just how deep the Bulls were last season. The grizzled veteran rarely played throughout the first three months of the season, but when Joakim Noah went down because of thumb surgery before Christmas, the Bulls dusted off Thomas and he became one of the most dependable starters on the team. He didn't move very fast and he couldn't jump very high, but he got the job done almost every night. He was an insurance policy that Tom Thibodeau happily cashed in when he needed one the most.

Now that Thomas has signed with the Portland Trailblazers, Thibodeau doesn't have the luxury anymore. But that doesn't mean the Bulls still don't have one of the deepest center duos in the league. Noah has shown that, when healthy, he is a double-double machine. He's also a defensive anchor who has the ability to become an All Star if he can stay on the floor and produce. The key for the Bulls is that even if Noah goes down, they have one of the best young backups in the league in Omer Asik. The organization believes that the Turkish center is going to continue his development this season. The coaches believe that Asik, who is already one of the best defenders on the team, will develop to one of the best defensive players in the league. They also believe that Asik will improve his offensive game and will become more confident down low in the post.

Most importantly, they believe Asik is healthy after fracturing his fibula during the Eastern Conference finals last year.

"He says he's pain free," Thibodeau said after Friday night's win over the Indiana Pacers. "He's not in great shape yet. And normally he is in great shape. That's who he is. He's a great worker, but he had to stay off the foot for a while. He says physically he feels fine. He just has to get his conditioning up."

That's the same thing Noah is focused on as well. He spent a huge portion of his summer working with his personal trainer and close friend, Alex Perris, trying to remake his body after suffering several injuries last year. Noah obviously took it personally that he couldn't be much of a factor in the postseason because of the injuries and there's no question he feels the pressure that comes with the fact that his five-year, $60 million deal kicks in this season. He wants to prove to everybody that he can be the guy who helps get the Bulls to the next level.

"Losing is always hard," Noah said recently. "And the closer you get to your goal ... the goal is always to win a championship, the goal was to win a championship even threw years ago. Even though we probably had less of a chance. You go into a season believing you're going to win the championship. [Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau] always says that. Now, who's willing to do all the things that have to be done to win? I think that maybe two years ago I really didn't know what that meant. As you grow and get experience, you start realizing, this is what we need to do."

What the Bulls need to do as far as their centers are concerned is focus on the positives. Whether they add another big man or not (veteran Joel Pryzbilla's name has popped as a possibility) the Bulls should remember that they have two very good, still young centers in the mix. Most teams would die to have that kind of depth.