Pin removed from Joakim Noah's thumb

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah had the pin taken out of his right thumb on Tuesday and was back at practice Wednesday wearing a protective white guard over the thumb and hand.

"He's in good spirits," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He's working out. [He] still can't do anything on the court, but he's doing his conditioning and his strength stuff, but [he's in] very good spirits."

Thibodeau still isn't sure when Noah will return, but is hopeful it is sooner than expected. Noah originally hurt the thumb on Nov. 27 in a win over the Sacramento Kings and had surgery to repair a torn ligament in the thumb on Dec. 16.

"The encouraging thing is everything's fine," said Thibodeau, whose Bulls are 15-6 without Noah. "He's on schedule, maybe a little ahead of schedule. But now he has to strengthen the hand and we go from there."

Thibodeau was non-committal on a timetable.

"That's going to be up to [athletic trainer] Fred [Tedeschi] and the doctors," Thibodeau said. "The next step will be getting him onto the court, to do non-contact stuff. So he's probably still maybe a week or two away from that. Then once he can get through the non-contact part of practice, then the step after that will be contact in practice. When he gets through that, then he plays. So he's still two steps away."

Thibodeau said it's likely Noah, averaging 14 points and 11.7 rebounds in 24 games, will accompany the Bulls on their West Coast swing next week and continue his rehab.

"I know he's anxious to get back," Thibodeau said. "He's doing everything he can. He's done a great job with his conditioning while he's been hurt, so he just has to be patient and do the right thing."

Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.