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Friday, May 11, 2012
Bulls vow to work hard in offseason

By Melissa Isaacson
ESPNChicago.com

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Chicago Bulls players clearly were down but not entirely defeated Friday, as they attended meetings and cleared out of Berto Center following their abrupt end to the postseason with a first-round loss to Philadelphia in five games.

"Obviously, there's a lot of shoulda, coulda, wouldas," Carlos Boozer said. "I think every team goes through that when you lose. But listen, we were dinged up this year. We were like a car that was missing a few parts at the end of the season, but we were still ticking and going and fighting to get from A to B. We just fell a little short.

"Those games at Philadelphia were very winnable for us. I think you guys can agree with that, but we fell a little short. Philadelphia played a great series."

Joakim Noah, who badly sprained his ankle in Game 3 and missed the rest of the series, said he was in somewhat of a state of disbelief.

"I can't believe it's over," Noah said, "but we have to move on. You put all this work and then fall short, it's tough. God works in mysterious ways, I guess."

Asked what he was going to work on during the offseason, Noah had an interesting reply.

"There are always things you can do better," he said. "I have to strengthen my ankles. I've had too many ankle injuries throughout the years. It's frustrating because I feel I worked hard to keep my body right. I feel the ankle injury was unfortunate. I think going full speed like that and landing on somebody's foot, that could've happened to anybody. It's frustrating. But nobody died. Learn from it and move on."

Noah said he wanted to play Thursday night, but the decision came down to one thing.

"I'm always going to be optimistic. And I always want to play," he said. "I couldn't even finish my warmup. And that's only warmup. You have to go contest guys like (Andre) Iguodala at the rim. You have to be able to make plays. It's not a question of just being able to go out there. You have to be productive. Otherwise, it hurts the team. There's nothing more I wanted than to be on the court. That hurts."

Omer Asik, who filled in for Noah at center and missed two key free throws at the end of Thursday's game that would have given the Bulls a three-point lead, did not stop to talk to reporters.

Boozer also said he needs to improve his overall game.

"Everything, everything. I just want to come back a better player, all around, inside and out, defensively, offensively, a better leader, continue to improve as a player," he said.

Boozer will return to his home in Miami and Noah to far-flung destinations including Cameroon. But both will go with gnawing thoughts of what could have been had the Bulls reached the much-anticipated conference finals against Miami.

"Oh my goodness, you have no idea how bad we'd like that shot," Boozer said.

"The unfortunate part of this year is we didn't measure up against the teams we wanted to measure up against," Noah said. "I personally believe this group can compete against anybody and beat anybody. We had tough breaks throughout the year. That's unfortunate but it's part of the game. You learn from being injured and the hard times. That will make the good times even better."

The bad taste, however, will linger.

"Last year, it lasted all summer," Boozer said. "To see them jumping on the scorers table last night, that stuff stays with you for a while until you get to compete again."

The offseason, he said, will be a long one.

"They're all tough when you lose," Boozer said. "I haven't won a championship yet in the NBA, so they're all tough. All 10 years have been tough in the offseason but our team will get healthy and we'll be back and we'll be very good and we'll be very hungry. Hopefully, we can stay healthy. Look, wouldn't you love to see us at full strength, completely healthy and when the playoffs start? We haven't had that yet, so hopefully we'll get that next year.

Both players said they do not want to see the makeup of the team change.

"As a player, you can only control what you can control," Noah said. "We just lost yesterday. I think it's important for everybody to regroup mentally and make another run at it. Because you know what? Derrick (Rose) is going to come back. It's adversity. But it's just another challenge for us, like (coach Tom Thibodeau) always says. We are very privileged people doing what we love to do. Let's get better this summer and come back hungrier than ever and make a run."