Joakim Noah gets cast off, return likely to come after All-Star break

Per Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago:

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah is getting the cast taken off his right hand on Monday, and he'll begin traveling with the team.

Coach Tom Thibodeau believes Noah can begin non-contact drills on Tuesday -- although he spent time after practice on Monday working with Bulls ambassador Scottie Pippen -- and perhaps be ready to play after the All-Star break. Noah will travel with the Bulls on Tuesday to Los Angeles, where the Bulls face the Clippers on Wednesday.

Joakim Noah, who injured his thumb on November 27th against the Sacramento Kings, recently said on a Bulls/Milwaukee Bucks game broadcast that he hopes to play before the All-Star break.

However, that's not looking likely, as coach Tom Thibodeau said today: Noah's likely to return after the All-Star break.

Is that the right call?

Absolutely. The Bulls undoubtebly need Noah to compete for an NBA championship, but the regular season has been the least of their concerns, as the Bulls currently own an impressive 33-14 record.

Noah has missed the last 23 games, in which span the Bulls are 17-6. Credit two things: the easy schedule and Kurt Thomas.

During Noah's absence, the Bulls have played 18 teams below .500, going 13-5 in those games. Meanwhile, they are 4-1 against the above .500 teams, defeating the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks, and Orlando Magic. However, they did lose to a lower-level .500 team in the New York Knicks.

Nonetheless, the easy schedule has played a major role in the Bulls' record without Noah. However, the presence of Kurt Thomas has also been both surprising and needed.

Thomas, as the starting center during Noah's absence, is averaging 6.0 PPG and 7.5 RPG in just under 30 minutes per game. The Bulls definitely needed a big-man to step up, and many fans thought that player would be Taj Gibson, but Thomas' emergence as a quality backup center -- thriving when given the opportunity -- bodes well for the future, as well.

There's no reason for the Bulls to rush Noah to get back on the court. The Bulls have fared well in his absence and have a viable replacement performing very adequately during Noah's absence.

At this point, a return post-ASB seems like the most likely scenario. It's hard to envision the Bulls bringing Noah back before the ASB -- as they will face three more below .500 teams during the final 7 games.

The best case scenario, as of right now, is a return right after the ASB. However, the most likely scenario right now should be tabbed at a week -- or week and a half -- after the ASB.

Noah was on pace to make his first NBA All-Star game appearance before suffering torn ligaments in his thumb; instead of playing in the All-Star game, the three day weekend will likely be used for as time to recuperate the thumb for game action.  

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