By Cody Westerlund--
CHICAGO (CBS) -- A day after receiving official word that center Joakim Noah will miss the remainder of the regular season and in all likelihood the playoffs as well with a left shoulder injury, the Bulls were still dealing with their new reality.
"It's tough," coach Fred Hoiberg said. "Jo's such a passionate kid. He's a big-time leader of this team. He has so much energy. Even when he wasn't playing, he was always keeping guys' spirits up.
"I really feel bad."
The 30-year-old Noah dislocated his left shoulder in Friday's loss to the Mavericks, and on Saturday, the team announced he'll need surgery and be out four to six months. This marked the latest challenge for Noah in what's been a tough year professionally.
After years of starting, Noah moved to a bench role under Hoiberg. He averaged just 4.3 points, the lowest mark of his nine-year career. Noah had recently missed nine games across three weeks after suffering a slight tear in his left shoulder on Dec. 21, then suffered this more serious injury in just his fourth game back.
A date hasn't yet been set for Noah's surgery, as he's seeking a second opinion and still deciding on who will do the surgery.
"It can happen to anyone," center Pau Gasol said. "I'm sorry it happened to him.
"Injuries are probably the worst moment for an athlete, because it stops you from doing what you love to do."
While Noah was struggling mightily offensively, notably in his inability to finish around the rim, he was a stout post defender, a catalyst for the second unit, a team leader and an energetic tone-setter on a team that rues its habit of too often coming out flat.
The Bulls will now have to look elsewhere for those contributions. Rookie power forward/center Bobby Portis figures to get more consistent minutes, and Hoiberg used the word "committee" to describe filling the gap. Little-used big men Cam Bairstow and Cristiano Felicio will have to be ready to play, Hoiberg added.
Portis was strong in an increased role in the final two weeks of December, but he tailed off recently in fewer minutes, averaging just 2.5 points and shooting 5-of-20 in the past six games. Hoiberg thinks teams have taken more note of Portis in their game-planning, and the youngster needs to adjust to the increased attention.
"Teams are going to play him a little bit differently," Hoiberg said.
Hoiberg believed Noah will make a full recovery in due time. Whether that will be with the Bulls remains to be seen, as he's an unrestricted free agent this summer. It's a possibility that he's played his final game in a Bulls uniform.
Prior to Noah's injury, the Bulls had gauged interest on him on the trade market, according to reports. With his value reduced to nothing for the rest of this season, that dynamic has completely changed, and Hoiberg doesn't expect much movement on the trade market at this point.
"You're always listening, talking and making calls, but I don't think there's anything serious out there," Hoiberg said.
The loss of Noah comes as the Bulls face one of their most daunting stretches of the season. Monday brings a matchup at Detroit, which has already beaten Chicago twice this season, then a home contest awaits Wednesday against league-leading Golden State. After that, nine of the Bulls' next 10 games are on the road, including matchups against the Cavaliers and Clippers.
In an uneven season, the Bulls (23-16) have gone 6-1 against teams with the six best records in the NBA.
"We have played better when the challenge has been bigger," Gasol said. "So let's see if we can dig in."
In other news on the injury font, forward Mike Dunleavy did non-contact work and participated in defensive drill work with assistant coaches at the conclusion of practice. He's still rehabbing after late September back surgery and a setback about six weeks ago. Hoiberg indicated Dunleavy is still several weeks away from doing contact work.
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.
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