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Joakim Noah says he’s healthy, rarin’ to go

Bulls center Joakim Noah is stopped as he drives baseline second half Chicago Bulls 85-75 loss Miami Hegame two Eastern

Bulls center Joakim Noah is stopped as he drives the baseline in the second half of the Chicago Bulls 85-75 loss to the Miami Heat in game two of the Eastern Conference Finals Wednesday May 18, 2011 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 7, 2012 8:15AM

Center Joakim Noah returned Monday to the Berto Center feeling healthy in mind and body and with a newfound perspective, thanks to the NBA lockout.

But that doesn’t mean he still didn’t feel the sting of the Bulls’ loss to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals last season.

‘‘I know I wasn’t happy with the way it ended at all,’’ Noah said. ‘‘It took me awhile to get back from that. I think that’s a normal reaction. I even watched a couple of the games in the summertime. It was pretty depressing stuff.

‘‘At the same time, you realize that the games were really close, and it really comes down to one or two possessions. We’re a young team. We have to use that to our advantage and learn from our mistakes because we can play better than we did last year. A lot of people say we maximized [our talent], but I don’t think so. We can do better.’’

The Bulls met Monday with free agent Caron Butler. The former Dallas Mavericks forward, who is recovering after rupturing the
patellar tendon in his right knee last season, also is expected to visit the Los Angeles Clippers, San
Antonio Spurs, New Jersey Nets and Detroit Pistons.

NBA executives and coaches were allowed to begin talking with players Monday, although no oral or written agreements can be made until Friday because the lockout
remains in effect, at least technically. Coaches aren’t allowed to supervise on-court activities until training camps open Friday, but players are free to work out on own, as Noah, Luol Deng, Omer Asik and Ronnie Brewer did at the Bulls’ training facility.

‘‘You realize how much you miss playing with your teammates and how privileged we are to be playing in these unbelievable arenas and playing at the highest level,’’ Noah said of the perspective the lockout offered. ‘‘It’s pretty cool.’’

Expect the Bulls to target a shooting guard after Keith Bogans averaged only 4.4 points last season.
The Bulls have nine players who logged significant minutes last
season under contract, which means they will be limited to a
$5 million mid-level exception if they want to avoid the luxury tax.

Butler averaged 16.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists in his 11th NBA season and impressed the Mavericks with his commitment to recover from his injury in time to join them for the playoffs. While he didn’t appear in a playoff game, his team-first mentality might fit nicely with the Bulls’ tightly knit group.

‘‘I don’t know how he is health-wise, but there’s no question he’s definitely a great player,’’ Noah said of Butler.

Another possibility for the Bulls is Vince Carter, who might be
released by the Phoenix Suns. In 72 games last season, the 13-year veteran averaged 14 points, 3.8 rebounds and two assists. Jason Richardson, Shane Battier and Josh Howard are also available.

Noah, meanwhile, played for the French national team this offseason. He also spent time working out with his former college coach, Florida’s Billy Donovan, and even got together with Derrick Rose in California for 10 days of workouts.

He said he has recovered from what he called a ‘‘serious’’ ankle injury that slowed him late last season.

‘‘I’ve just been working on
everything, just trying to get stronger, working on my hook shots, my jump shots,’’ Noah said. ‘‘I’m feeling pretty polished.’’

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