Young Bulls players will play a big part in replacing Joakim Noah

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Bulls forward Cristiano Felicio will be one of the young players looked to help replace Joakim Noah for the rest of this season.

CHICAGO – While it’s not something new for this room, there was a bit more gloom hanging around the Advocate Center on Sunday.

The guy that brings a substantial amount of energy and rebounding moxie would not be out for a couple of weeks this time with a shoulder injury, as was the case in late December and early January.

Now Joakim Noah’s absence from the lineup would be a question of months.

“It’s a tough one to swallow,” admitted Pau Gasol about 16 hours after the news of the forward’s upcoming left shoulder surgery. “Jo brings a lot to the table, to our team. Lot of energy, great spirit, great competitiveness, intensity. So it’s hard to accept the news.”

So is the timeline.

Four-to-Six months is the recovery period for Noah after he separated his left shoulder for a second time in a month in the second quarter of Friday’s loss to the Mavericks. He ran off the court in pain as athletic trainers went after him and he may have done so for the last time in a Bulls jersey.

Noah is a free agent after this season and his accelerated walk off the floor at the United Center could signal the end of his nine-year run with the Bulls.

“He was always keeping guys spirit’s up being around here and I know he’ll continue to do that,” said head coach Fred Hoiberg of Noah. “I feel bad for him that he’s going to have to have another surgical procedure to fix this but I know at the end of the day Jo is going to be fine.”

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Whether the Bulls will be as well depends, considering that Noah, while not a starters, was one of the Bulls' best post defenders and rebounders. For sure it means that Hoiberg will have to look to some younger players to fill the void off the bench for what most likely will be the rest of the season.

First and foremost that's Bobby Portis, who showed up in a big way when Noah was out of the lineup the first time. He saw a significant bump in minutes during the nine games that Noah missed when he initially separated his left shoulder, averaging seven points and seven rebound a game.

"With Bobby, his minutes have been up and down with not being in the rotation early and then taking advantage of minutes when a couple of guys were out, he'll be back in that role again," said Hoiberg. "There are some guys that haven't played really at all and they'll have to be ready when their name is called.

"I'm confident those guys will do that."

Who are those guys? We'll you haven't seen a lot of them.

The first is Cristiano Felicio who took Noah's spot on the roster. Brought in this June to be on the Bulls' summer league team, Felicio has appeared in three minutes of action this season in two November games. He was playing for the Canton Charge of the NBA D-League where he averaged 14.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in four games.

Bulls fans might be a little more familiar with Cameron Bairstow who was on the team in 2014-2015 and has appeared in eight games this season. Not that it translates to a ton of experience considering that he averaged just 3.8 minutes in those games but that figures to increase over the next few months.

"Everyone is going to have to fill in for what Jo gave us-which is a lot," said Hoiberg. "He's our best low post defenders, one of the best playmakers on our team, a guy that always generates ball movement when he's on the floor and that's going to have to be picked up by the group collectively."

On Sunday they were spiritually looking for that boost after losing one of their emotional leaders for the season and maybe longer.

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