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  • Noah-pologies: Can the New Knicks Regime Reconcile with Joakim Noah?

Noah-pologies: Can the New Knicks Regime Reconcile with Joakim Noah?

Photo: Bailey Carlin/TKW Illustration

The much-maligned big man signed by the previous regime, under Phil Jackson, hasn’t had any shine by former head coach Jeff Hornacek. David Fizdale will have to change that for the team to succeed.

Do blondes have more fun? Or will they, at the very least, not get into shouting matches with their new coaches?

Two weeks before the Knicks announced that David Fizdale would be the 29th coach in the franchise’s history, Joakim Noah unveiled his new look.

If you’ve ever thought about bleaching your beard, I would argue that you have both too much money and too much time on your hands. Phil Jackson signed Noah to a four-year, $72.59 million contract in the summer of 2016. Noah played in 46 games during the 2016–17 season, undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in February and finding himself suspended 20 games for a failed drug test in March 2017. He played seven games in the 2017–18 season before getting in an “altercation” with then-coach Jeff Hornacek.

But that’s in the past, new year, new coach, new Joakim—maybe. With Porzingis recovering from a torn ACL, and Kanter and O’Quinn possibly exercising player options, Noah and Luke Kornet may be the lone centers under contract and ready to start the season. Stefan Bondy of the Daily News reported that the altercation between Noah and Hornacek, “stemmed from Noah’s lack of playing time.” Should he remain on the roster, Noah could be in line for a large share of the minutes at center.

Noah could also be stretched, and NY Post‘s Knicks beat writer Marc Berman seems to think this is the most likely scenario:

“Sources indicate the likeliest scenario still is Noah becoming a stretch-provision waiver at the Sept. 1 landmark date. … Waiting until Sept. 1 would enable the Knicks to maximize their salary-cap savings while not having Noah’s $72 million deal strangle their cap for too many years.”

I, for one, am not a fan of the Knicks stretching Noah, as this ultimately means he’ll be on their books through the 2022–23 season. In that scenario, he would be making a little over $7.5 million against the cap, but the Knicks would probably be better off taking their medicine and just paying him the $18.5 million and $19.3 million over the final two years of his deal. Simply exorcise Phil Jackson’s biggest mistake—apart from dangling his biggest triumph, Porzingis, in front of the trading block—and be done with it.

With Porzingis likely out until 2019 (at the earliest), barring a miracle, the Knicks won’t be very competitive in the short term—unless they need to clear space immediately for a monster free agent, and again, all signs point to that not being the case. And why should they handicap themselves? Noah could even have a bit of value as an expiring deal next year, especially for teams looking to clear cap space ahead of a monster 2020 free agent class that could include Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, and Draymond Green.

This would also give Noah a chance to contribute something to the franchise. As a native New Yorker, it’s obvious that this isn’t how he envisioned his time with his hometown team, and this could give the center a chance to rectify the situation.

While his days of producing at a high level on the court appear to be over—in large part due to being ground into dust by Tom Thibodeau—Noah may be the highest paid mentor in the league. With the Bulls, Noah went toe to toe with LeBron, who, he, shockingly enough, is almost two months younger than—something no other current Knicks have done. He made his hay as a smart, versatile defender and a willing passer, and assuming he and Fizdale can stay out of the octagon, I don’t see the harm in having him around our young franchise center.

As Clay Kaledin wrote, Fizdale, who an assistant and associate head coach with those great Miami Heat teams, is one of the most charismatic coaches in the league. Players love him, just check out the league’s reaction to his firing in Memphis:

Of course, the Spanish elephant in the room is Marc Gasol, Fiz’s former franchise player. Fizdale was the latest in a long line of coaches sent to the unemployment office after butting heads with their star player. The Grizzlies had lost eight straight, and Gasol didn’t play in the fourth quarter of a 98-88 loss to Brooklyn, causing more friction to the duo’s already contentious relationship.

While his rocky alliance with Gasol cost Fizdale his first head coaching job, there were certainly some bright spots during his short tenure. He got Zach Randolph—one of the franchise’s most endeared players—to buy into coming off the bench, he took the Spurs to six games in the first round of the playoff, and he delivered an instant-classic post-game press conference quote where he passionately defended his team. (Take that for data!)

Hopefully, Fizdale has learned that feuding with your seven-foot-tall European star doesn’t always end well, but with Porzingis giving Fizdale his blessing following the coach’s appearance at the Eastern Conference Finals with Ntilikina and Mudiay, it seems like the up-and-comers are on board. If given the chance, will Noah buy in?

According to Fizdale, they’ve at least spoken—something that could bode well for the center’s future.

“[Joakim Noah] reached out to me and just congratulated me and like I said, I’m not putting a ceiling on anybody. Whoever is on our team in front of me is going to get my full attention and investment and he’s obviously given me fits from back in the day. I’ve got some Noah nightmares from when he was in Chicago, some of the wars. So, like I said, I’m not putting a cap on anybody.”

And he shouldn’t—assuming Noah can stay on the floor. Fizdale—having coached Gasol—may be just the right coach to get the most out of him. However, assuming he’ll be healthy may be a stretch at this point of his career, a center with passing chops was the focal point of Fizdale’s offense in Memphis. While an offense centered around Joakim Noah in 2018 isn’t necessarily the way to win games in today’s NBA, the team went 6-28 after Kristaps succumbed to his ACL tear last year, anyways, and New York doesn’t appear to have too many avenues to drastically improve over the offseason.

If Noah can see the floor and pass even a fraction as well as he could with the Bulls, then he could be putting some of the Knicks’ younger players in good positions to score. Some development from the likes of Ntilikina, Mudiay, Hardaway, and whoever they draft should be what most fans hope for. In 2013, a 39-year-old Jason Kidd ran one of the best Knick offenses of my lifetime. Noah may not be Kidd, but those skills last longer than the physical ones, and Noah’s six years younger now than Kidd was then. If there’s one thing he can still contribute on the floor, it should be facilitating.

It’s also possible that the tank is empty, and that playing over 16,000 minutes for Tom Thibodeau has broken one of the most fearsome competitors and tenacious defenders of the 2010s. If that’s true, then the Knicks are $37.8 million in the hole, and they should avoid digging any deeper. Don’t mortgage the future by attaching picks or players to trade him—and don’t eat into future cap space by stretching him. Simply just ride it out.

Time will tell if Noah will even be on the Knicks by the time the season starts, but if the team remains patient, they’ll be better off in the long run. And who knows, if Kristaps starts making passes like these, then it might have been worth it all after all.

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