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CHICAGO -- For the first time since his good friend Luol Deng was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah addressed the media.
Noah, the emotional heart and soul of the organization, hit on a number of topics after Saturday night's win over the Charlotte Bobcats, his first question-and-answer session all week.
The trade definitely hurt. But we got to move on. I feel confident in this team; we're working really hard. A lot of people say this is a business and all that but this game is more than a business to me. I put everything I got into this.” -- Joakim Noah
"The trade definitely hurt," Noah said, adding that he had spoken to Deng about it. "But we got to move on. I feel confident in this team; we're working really hard. A lot of people say this is a business and all that but this game is more than a business to me. I put everything I got into this. I feel like Lu was the same way so it was hard for me to digest. But that's just my perspective, that's just my side of the story. Everybody has a different job. I'm not mad at anybody. I'm not mad at the organization or anything like that. It's just that my brother isn't here anymore. So I just needed a little bit of time to digest that."
Noah said he discussed the deal with Bulls general manager Gar Forman and executive vice president John Paxson. The message he received from them was unmistakable.
"[They imparted] that there's no tanking," Noah said. "There's no tanking, and that's it."
Noah has played some of his best basketball of the season in the past couple of weeks as the Bulls have won five in a row. He remains confident that his team can continue to win games this season.
"I just think that all this adversity makes me stronger," he said. "It just makes me stronger as a person and as a player. I think I've never been so hungry. We've been through a lot; [Derrick Rose's] injury was really hard. Lu not being here is really hard. But we're going to go out there, and like I said, there's no tank in this team. We're going to grind and make this city proud."
Noah was asked whether he could understand why the organization decided to make the deal to trade Deng. Even after a week to process all the information, the emotional center admitted he hasn't come to grips with everything.
"It's hard to say because at the end of the day that's my brother," he said. "And he's not here anymore. That's the way I see it. They see the game differently. They're not out there on the court. They're not out there on the plane. They don't know how much Lu meant to me personally. But I'm not mad at anybody. At the end of the day, the games keep coming -- we're just going to go out there, give it everything we got. There's no tanking. None of that. We're going to go out there and give 150 percent. When people in Chicago say 'Chicago Bulls,' I want people in Chicago to be proud of that. Even if there's four guys hurt, guys are hurt, no matter who's out, we're going to go out there and we're going to give 150 percent, win or lose. I know people in this city are proud of that."
Noah acknowledged how proud he is of the fact that the Bulls continue to rack up wins despite all the things that have happened to them in recent years. Rose has played only 50 games in the past three season because of two major knee surgeries, and the Bulls have readjusted their roster several times and played through injuries, but they still find a way to win, led by coach Tom Thibodeau.
"I'm proud of that," Noah said. "I'm proud of that. This team, we've been dealing with a lot of adversity over the years. But people know when they come and play Chicago, no matter if there's four guys on the court, we're going to go out there and we're going to go hard. We're going to give it everything we have. And I think that's something that people are proud of when you say 'Chicago Bulls.' Whatever it is, you know you're in for a fight. I'm proud to be a part of that. It's always going to be like that."
Noah spoke openly about how much it meant for him to represent the city of Chicago and how the city seems to have embraced how hard the Bulls play night in and night out.
"We didn't do anything yet," Noah said. "We just want to represent. We know this is a city that ... even when I come to the game, I see the guy selling the newspapers on the streets. [It's] cold outside -- when he sees me driving by, he's excited. You know what I mean? He's excited. He's like, 'All right. Let's go Bulls! Get it done tonight!' I feel like I play for that guy. Like when I look at the top of the arena, and I look up top and I see teams call timeout, and I see the guy who looks this big and he's up cheering up and down, jumping up and down, that's the guy I play for. To me, that's what this city represents. There's a lot of hardship in here, a lot of adversity in this city, and I feel like when I play basketball I want people to be proud of their team."
Noah also remains confident that the Bulls' front office is committed to winning a title in the future.
"Yep," he said. "I think so. I don't have to be happy with the decision that they made. But everybody has a job to do. At the end of the day, trading Lu, it's something that I won't understand but I got to live with it. And I'm going to go out there on the court, give it everything I have."
He did not, however, want to focus on how the Deng move changes things for his team in the future.
"I'm not there," he said. "I'm not there, and that's not my job. All I can do is just help this team stay focused on the next game, on the task at hand, be out there on the court and be a good leader. Be a good leader on the court. Keep everybody's energy levels high and focus on the task at hand."
Many around the league were convinced the Bulls would slide into the NBA draft lottery after making the Deng deal, starting the process of rebuilding the Bulls' core, but Noah seems focused more than ever on pushing his team into the playoffs.
"To me, it's more than winning and losing games," he said. "I'm just proud of the way we've been fighting. The resiliency of this team so far. We just got to keep doing it. I think that we can still get better, we can keep improving, and see what happens. Just go into the playoffs with a high seed. I think these are all things that are realistic goals for us. Once the playoffs hit, you can't take none of these experiences for granted."