Anyone who has paid anything more than passing attention to Joakim Noah(notes) over the last few weeks has noticed that something is clearly missing from his game, and that he seems to be spending a lot of time looking at what is a heavily wrapped right wrist.
So when news filtered out Wednesday that Noah could miss eight-to-10 weeks if he decided to have surgery on his sprained right wrist, few were surprised. And by the time news came down late Wednesday night that Noah was to have surgery on the wrist, and would definitely be out those eight-to-10 weeks, you could understand.
The Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson has been all over the story, and he has the breakdown:
Noah is scheduled to miss eight to 10 weeks, not returning until after the All-Star break in late February or early March. That would be at least 30 games for the heart and soul -- and rebounding machine -- of the franchise.
"It sucks," Noah said. "It's not what I want. But I have to get back to playing at a high level. I'm tired of taking anti-inflammatory (pills) every time I play. I'm tired of not dribbling with my right hand.
"I'm going to miss playing. It's frustrating because I feel we have a chance to be really, really good. But I know in the long run, this is what needs to be done."
It is what needs to be done, sadly. Noah had been almost exclusively going to and shooting with his left hand over the last few weeks, and constantly grimacing and looking at the busted wrist during games even if he wasn't getting smacked on it. And these weren't "look at me, I'm injured" expressions, as Joakim was still playing at a nearly double-double level with one hand. This guy was clearly in pain, and he's right -- "this is what needs to be done."
The Bulls will suffer. They could continue to win at their current pace, nothing from this dogged bunch of hard workers would surprise me at this point, but this is a huge blow. Luckily Chicago has a legitimate 20-and-10 guy in Carlos Boozer(notes) to help with the rebounding, scoring and passing that Noah brings, and one of the best backup center/forwards in the game in Taj Gibson(notes) to help with everything else.
Gibson could start in Noah's absence, or rookie big man Omer Asik(notes) could step in, but even with this deep frontcourt the one-step-over manuever in the rotation will hurt. There's no way around it, as Asik steps into Gibson's minutes, Kurt Thomas(notes) steps into Asik's minutes, and a possible pickup like company-guy Chris Richard(notes) steps into Thomas' previously occasional minutes. Noah is this team's leader, on many nights its best player, and you just don't replace a 7-footer with myriad skills easily. Chicago's depth is good and the upcoming schedule forgiving, but the Bulls will miss their big man.
As will we. Few players run with the sort of abject joy that Noah does, and his presence on the court has long been a pleasure to watch. To have that taken away until possibly March is just cruel for all involved.
But it's a necessary operation. He was clearly in too much pain to carry on this way.