Bulls ’mates bench Noah for 2nd game

Published: Monday, January 14, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 13, 2008 at 11:53 p.m.

ATLANTA — In a stunning move, Bulls players voted to increase Joakim Noah’s discipline for verbally abusing assistant coach Ron Adams at Friday’s morning shootaround in Philadelphia, forcing the rookie to miss Sunday’s 105-84 loss to the Hawks.

Joakim Noah, Emeka Okafor
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Joakim Noah, Emeka Okafor

Chicago Bulls forward Joakim Noah (13) grabs a rebound over Charlotte Bobcats forward Emeka Okafor (50) during the first half of the Bulls' 109-97 win in Charlotte, N.C. on Jan. 2.

The Associated Press

Several Bulls, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the vote was unanimous.

A shellshocked Noah, who, according to sources, snapped when Adams kept riding him for forgetting plays, paused several times to compose himself while discussing his teammates’ decision to urge coaches to sit him for one more game.

‘‘I mean, I’ve just got to accept it,’’ said Noah, 22. ‘‘What do you want me to say? I’m a rookie. ... I mean, it is what it is. I’ve just got to move on, and there’s nothing I can do about it. So ...’’

On Friday in Philadelphia, interim coach Jim Boylan said Noah’s punishment would last only one game. Noah said his teammates’ decision to lengthen the penalty wouldn’t affect his relationship with them, but he talked around whether he agreed with it.

‘‘Ask the players who made the decision,’’ Noah said after sitting behind the Bulls’ bench in street clothes for the second straight game. ‘‘Do I agree with it? That doesn’t matter or make a difference. I respect my teammates and respect their opinions and stuff like that. They told me what I did was unacceptable. I just have to deal with it and move on.’’

Veterans Adrian Griffin and Ben Wallace called for the vote, which took place after Saturday’s practice at Georgia Tech. Several players said Griffin, a quiet leader who served as a Bulls captain in the 2004-05 season, was particularly unhappy over the incident.

‘‘We have a chance to salvage this season and we just need everybody on page,’’ Griffin said. ‘‘We believe he’s on page with us. It’s one of those things that I believe will bring us closer. We just have to move on.

‘‘Everybody on this team knows what Joakim can do. The players are supportive of each other and supportive of Joakim. We look forward to getting him back on the court.’’

Wallace has had several high-profile run-ins with coaches, including refusing to re-enter a game for Flip Saunders with the Pistons and last season’s defiance of the Bulls’ rule banning headbands. Yet Wallace said Noah’s transgression crossed the line and demanded teammates’ action because it became personal.

‘‘I understand frustrations with coaches,’’ Wallace said. ‘‘But you can never take it to that level where you overstep the coach-player relationship and talk to a grown man like that. I might not like you as a coach, but I have to respect you as a man.

‘‘We have to be responsible for each other. We’re together all the time. We feel we’re becoming a close-knit group and a family-type atmosphere. It’s up to us to hold everybody accountable for his own actions.’’

Noah’s actions include habitual tardiness, for which he has been fined. Boylan acknowledged that the players’ decision addressed a host of transgressions.

‘‘This has been building during the course of the season because Joe has had some situations where he’s been late or not doing what the Chicago Bulls do,’’ Boylan said. ‘‘I think the cumulative aspect of this is definitely part of the reasoning for the players doing what they did.

‘‘Joakim is a great kid. He really is. He’s got a good heart and wants to help his team. He just needs to realize that this isn’t college anymore. He needs to follow the rules that are set down for everyone.

‘‘I think the veteran players, by doing what they’ve done, are going to help him see that. He’ll make the proper adjustments because in his heart he wants to help the team. This is a good lesson for him.’’

When general manager John Paxson drafted Noah out of Florida in June, Paxson talked about Noah’s gregarious nature and over-the-top personality injecting life into a serious, often staid team. Paxson even predicted Noah occasionally would cross the line with outlandish comments.

Earlier this season, former coach Scott Skiles said the rookie should ‘‘keep his mouth shut’’ on team matters. Skiles was joking, but the incident clearly affected Noah.

The question is whether Noah’s third public admonishment will affect that personality.

‘‘I don’t think he’s going to lose his personality,’’ Boylan said. ‘‘In the moment, he’s a little more subdued, his emotions are a little raw. I had a discussion with him about it and said if I was in his position, I would feel that way also.

‘‘This isn’t college anymore. It’s the NBA, it’s pro sports. You’re dealing with more mature, older people. It’s an adjustment period for him. The team has sent a message to him, and I think he’s smart enough to know what he needs to do without losing the part of what we like about him, and that’s his zest for life and his enthusiasm.’’

Adams declined to comment. It didn’t matter. The players spoke volumes for him.

‘‘We appreciate the way Joakim has handled it,’’ Wallace said. ‘‘He’s said he would sit out and learn from his mistakes. That’s all we ask of him, just learn from what he did and know it wasn’t right. He’s going to bounce back because we need him out there on the floor.’’

Atlanta rookie Al Horford, who played with Noah at Florida, called the ninth pick in the draft ‘‘very emotional’’ and ‘‘very competitive.’’

‘‘I just feel it’s a learning experience for everyone in general,’’ Horford said. ‘‘If you cross a line in something like that, there’s consequences to it. ... He wants to win really bad. I think people will figure him out as time goes on.’’

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