Can Joakim Noah lure Carmelo Anthony to Bulls?
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist February 18, 2014 10:11PM
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Updated: March 20, 2014 6:44AM
Let’s say Derrick Rose walks with a cane the rest of his life.
Easy now! We’re just talking hypothetical here.
Let’s say the Bulls are a team in unknown transitional territory, which they are. The NBA trade deadline is approaching this Thursday, and the Bulls, like many teams, would like to improve their lot however they can.
There sits free-agent-to-be Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, a superstar making a ton of money but a guy who might be a little restless and willing to leave New York for a shot at an NBA title.
Why would Anthony even consider joining the Bulls, if, like the rest of us, he has no idea if former league MVP guard Rose will be fully healed — ever — from double knee surgery?
How about this: Joakim Noah.
Yes, Noah as prime enticement.
In my heart, I do believe Rose will be back and functional for the Bulls. But not like the explosive charge he was at age 22, his third year in the league, when he averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists per game.
He’s 28, in his seventh season, and who wouldn’t want to play with him?
When he came to the Bulls from the University of Florida, he looked, and sometimes acted, like Bozo the Clown. Remember that seersucker suit, goofy bow tie and hairdo that resembled a cumulus cloud? When commissioner David Stern gave Noah his draft-day Bulls cap, Noah placed it atop the cloud, grinned and looked for all the world like a circus doofus ready to be hit in the face with a pie.
But the 6-11 kid has grown up, and what a force he is on the court.
He has the worst-looking shot I have ever seen by a pro basketball player, yet ‘‘The Tornado’’ is reasonably effective. Consider that Noah has shot almost 73 percent from the free-throw line for his career, outstanding for a center. (Dwight Howard is a career 58 percent free-throw shooter; Shaquille O’Neal was 53 percent.)
But the thing he has above all is desire.
His scouting report out of college said, ‘‘Motor never stops.’’ That may not seem like such a big thing for an elite athlete, but there are lots of guys in the NBA whose motors putter and even idle for extended stretches.
Don’t know if you watched the recent NBA All–Star Game, or whatever you’d like to call that silly shooting and messing-around session. When the winning team has 163 points and the game comes down to the last seconds before you even know which side is going to win, well, it’s more like dodgeball than basketball.
At any rate, Noah looked lost in the defense-free mayhem early on. That’s not his style, not his thing. But then, none other than LeBron James started feeding Noah, and the big man dunked and collected rebounds and looked like the force he can be.
Also in that game was our man ’Melo. The 6-8, soon-to-be-30-year-old was chucking like a hyperactive kid in a dirtball fight. He jacked up 13 three-pointers and made an All-Star Game-record eight of them. He fired 18 shots and finished with 30 points and — stunningly — two assists.
See, this guy can shoot. I made a big deal after Anthony scored 62 points in January to set a Knicks franchise record. In that game against the Charlotte Bobcats, Anthony touched the ball 57 times and only passed 16 times. He had zero assists.
That is nutty. But put him on the Bulls, give him a Thibodeau sandwich for training camp, and see if he doesn’t respond like he never has in his life.
And give him this lineup around him: Noah, Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. If Gibson has to go to clear salary space, give his spot to coming Spanish star Nikola Mirotic to fit in there somehow.
And maybe Rose will be the slash-and-burn star he was before. And he will dish to Carmelo every time he blasts down the lane and draws every defender in an attempt to destroy him.
But above all, think of how Noah could run the pick and roll with ’Melo, fire backdoor passes to him, rebound and get him the rock the way he needs it.
This doesn’t have to happen by Thursday. You can string these deals out forever, or at least till November.
But it would be something to see, someday soon.
And grown-up Noah could be the difference-maker.