The current dilemma between the New York Knicks and Joakim Noah was inevitable. The former Defensive Player of the Year isn’t used to being at the end of the bench.
Joakim Noah is one of three players this millennium to average 11 rebounds and five assists per game in the same season. Kevin Garnett did it three times in Minnesota, and DeMarcus Cousins was in the middle of it this season before tearing his ACL. That’s the Joakim Noah the New York Knicks hoped they were getting.
The guy that Adam Fromal of Bleacher Report ranked the best center in the NBA following the 2013-14 season; the same one in which he put up those gaudy numbers and was voted Defensive Player of the Year and First-Team All-NBA. Noah anchored Tom Thibodeau’s legendary defenses for five seasons. The Bulls finished in the top-ten in defensive efficiency in all but one season. They were 11th in 2014-15.
But that was a long time ago. Former Knicks president Phil Jackson ignored that fact last summer when he became drawn to the idea of a rejuvenated Noah. The one who could dish out assists, grab rebounds, and play defense the same way he did before multiple injuries to his shoulder changed the future of his career in Chicago.
Noah and Jackson become buddies after Noah showed up at Jack’s ranch in Montana unannounced after chatting on the phone briefly via their mutual contact — Noah’s dentist. You can’t make this stuff up. Noah loved the idea of playing for his hometown Knicks, but he wanted to play for Jackson just as much. Maybe even more. So, when the Knicks fired Jackson less than a year after Noah’s arrival, it was only a matter of time before things got rocky.
The new regime had no loyalty to Noah or any of Jackson’s guys. Hornacek made his feelings on New York’s “glut” of big men clear. Noah, like everybody else, would clearly need to prove himself if he wanted to play.
“How we’re playing, there might be nights when guys get in and other nights when they don’t,” Hornacek said. “If we all accept that we’re a team and we’re trying to do this together, then everybody’s contribution is important whether you’re playing or not.”
- via Al Iannazzone of Newsday
He never even got the chance. Following his return from suspension, Noah didn’t play until New York’s 20th game of the season. He got three measly minutes because starting center Enes Kanter was unavailable. Things didn’t get ugly with Hornacek and Noah until over a month later during a Jan. game vs. the Golden State Warriors.
Noah blew his top after being kept out of the game until there was 10:09 remaining in the fourth quarter despite Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle O’Quinn being unavailable due to injury. Hornacek took Noah out about five minutes later, and he and Noah got into it.
This led to an altercation the next day at practice. According to Frank Isola of The New York Daily News, a war of words between player and coach led to Hornacek pushing Noah and Noah shoving him back. The Knicks sent the $72 million man home while publicly they claimed he left for “personal reasons” and Noah’s been quiet since. Some might say the Knicks brought this on themselves. They should’ve seen this coming.
The unhappy big man has done this before. Two seasons ago–his final one in Chicago–he groaned at rookie head coach Fred Hoiberg when he dared to move the former Defensive Play of the Year to the bench. Noah was upset when he was playing nearly 22 minutes per game. There was no reason to believe he’d accept a role at the end of the bench.
But Noah wasn’t the only solidified big left out of the rotation. Willy Hernangomez was the toast of the town last season as a rookie but couldn’t find the court as a sophomore due to poor defense and the addition of Kanter. Things went smoother with Hernangomez for both sides.
The Knicks traded the 23-year-old and his team-friendly contract to the Charlotte Hornets for a couple of second-round picks. As badly as the Knicks would’ve loved to do the same with Noah, nobody is taking on that contract; and Noah’s not giving back any of that money in a buyout. If the sides can’t come to terms before March 1st–and Noah is still away from the team–the NBPA is likely to get involved. President Michele Roberts has already spoken out in public support of Noah.
The last thing the Knicks want is another circus. They thought they were done with that when Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony left town.
When Jackson signed Joakim Noah, he told him they’d be going to the playoffs together. There was a plan and Noah was directly at the center of it. Last season Noah was viewed as integral to this team’s success now they don’t even want him around.
He was a prized free agent acquisition who was displayed front and center at the team’s introductory press conference along with Jackson, Hornacek, and current team president Steve Mills. Now he’s being hidden away as the team hopes that fans forget what an utter disaster this situation is.
Phil Jackson thought he was getting the Joakim Noah who could run the triangle offense and anchor a top-ten defense. The Knicks never got that guy and they never will, but apparently, they do have that guy’s ego. There’s almost nothing worse in sports than an aging athlete who refuses to admit his skills are on the decline.
Noah’s demonstrative attitude and irrational confidence used to be incredible assets. Now they’re a burden. They’re the reason the Knicks don’t want him around.