CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah was almost an hour and a half late to his own party on Wednesday afternoon.
It wasn't his fault. Practice ran long at the Berto Center in Deerfield, and he had to hightail it over to the west side in order to pass out school supplies and give a motivational speech to the students at Lathrop Elementary School. Noah and new teammate Ronnie Brewer were the guests of honor on this day, but it was another name that seemingly everyone wanted to know about.
As the kids waited in the parking lot for Noah and Brewer to arrive they listened to speeches from former Bulls Bob Love and Sidney Green. Most were respectful and engaging but several wondered about the same question that so many fans have been thinking about for the past few weeks.
"When do we get Carmelo?" one little boy shouted from the back.
Whether any member of the Bulls organization actually heard him or not is open for debate, but there's no denying that little boy spoke for a huge faction of the city when he blurted out his question. It's not that the kid (and so many others) don't love Noah, it's just that the allure of acquiring a bona fide NBA superstar can be overwhelming. Inquiring minds, big and small, want to know what the Bulls are going to do about all the rumors, if anything.
In many ways, Noah is the same way. Sure, he said and did all the right things once he walked onto the premises, and he understands that the NBA is a business and he can get dealt at any time, but there is a growing part of him that would love to know one way or the other:
Am I staying or am I going?
That's why the emotional center wore the look of a man who had plenty of things weighing on his mind when he stepped out of his black SUV. He knew he would have to answer questions about the ongoing rumors surrounding his future, and he knew he would have to address the topic he didn't want to discuss the most: The ongoing speculation that he may be included in a deal for Anthony. It wasn't that Noah looked particularly miserable, it was just that the usual exuberance and outgoing nature he displayed with fans and media alike wasn't always present.
"I understand what kind of caliber of player Carmelo Anthony is," he explained. "I'm trying to stay positive. I've had some talks with Gar and Pax I'm really excited about the upcoming season ... I can't control what happens in the situation, I think a lot of these questions that you [media] are asking me, you guys should ask the people that make the decisions."
Noah isn't stupid. He realizes that it's doubtful Bulls management is going to publicly address these issues because that's just not the way business is usually done in the NBA. The Bulls desperately want to get better, and while a team source insisted to me last week that Noah wouldn't be part of any Anthony deal, the possibility still exists that things change and he ends up in Denver.
It's a scenario the 25 year-old doesn't want to think about.
He admitted that it was a "strange feeling" to hear his name bounced around in all the rumors. The point he continued to make throughout his short time with the media was clear though: He wants to stay in Chicago. He believes he has earned the right to see whether or not he can help lead a team to the promised land alongside Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer.
Whether he will get the chance or not is still left to be determined. Even if the Bulls came to the conclusion that they were willing to part with Noah, would the Nuggets really accept Luol Deng and the four years and almost $52 million left on his deal? As Noah would say: "Who Knows?"
This much is clear after seeing Noah artfully deflect most questions on Wednesday afternoon: He is already sick of the speculation and if the Bulls don't make a move fairly soon one way or the other, they run the risk of alienating the current heart and soul of their team. The ongoing drama surrounding a possible Noah-Anthony swap is only going to hurt the Bulls in the long run if it's prolonged. Noah considers himself to be a cornerstone for the future of the franchise, and though he understands the nature of the NBA beast, that doesn't mean he has to be happy about it.
After the free-agency bonanza came and went this summer, Noah figured he would be a Bull for a long time. He and his agent, Donald Dell, have been working with Forman on a deal and he figured that would probably get locked up before the year began. Now, everything is up in the air again. Yes, they're still negotiating the deal, but now the trade talks have crept up again and it seems Noah isn't sure how to feel.
Is he truly a franchise cornerstone or he is a massive bargaining chip that Forman will ultimately cash in for Anthony?
Nobody knows for sure, but if his brief appearance at the school was any indication, the Bulls better make a decision sooner rather than later. The last thing they want, in the event they don't trade for Anthony, is to have a disgruntled Noah continuing to wait for a contract extension and beginning to wonder whether Chicago is the best place for him in the future.