The Phil Jackson-New York Knicks ineptitude is in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, two strikes and a 102 miles per hour fast ball coming. Jackson’s most infamous free agent deal is about to leave the building. Joakim Noah will either be traded (but not likely), or he will be waived and the Knicks will eat his remaining $37 million via the stretch provision. That the Knicks are in this position, with the Noah burden weighing down the cap to near explosion, is the lingering gift Phil Jackson gave the organization despite evidence of Noah’s mediocrity. Maya Angelou famously said, “when people tell you who they are believe them.” Phil Jackson didn’t.
In Noah’s free agent year, the numbers were begging to be considered. He was a mirage in 2015-16. He only played in 29 games and the seven footer shot 38%. His 4.3 points was a team worst except for Kirk Hinrich who was in the last year of his NBA career, Cristiano Feliciano who was a rookie, and someone named Cameron Bairstow, a 6-9 center who was then and is now irrelevant. Hinrich, Feliciano and Bairstow were the Bulls low hanging fruit. And so was Joakim Noah. But Phil Jackson couldn’t see that. Or didn’t want to.
Phil wanted a NBA where big men mattered, where they still stirred the drink even if they were not the mega star. He wanted Noah to be some reiteration of Luc Longley.
Jackson signed Noah to a spectacular $72 million deal that by any standards was just ridiculous. Noah couldn’t stretch the floor. He didn’t block shots. His value was in his energy but the repetitive injuries slowed his effectiveness. He wasn’t a starting center anymore but a backup but Phil paid him as if he was an All-Star. He was far from that.
Forget the money. Noah was a disaster from jump. In two years, he played 46 games, 49% shooting and 4.6 points. Noah was suspended for taking substances on the banned list, a similar substance to an anabolic but without the steroid side effects. Noah was apologetic and admitted a mistake and vowed to make Knicks fans trust him again and then last season he wasn’t good enough to get in the game, the player who was once Defensive Player of the Year.
In February, things went south between Noah and now exiled coach Jeff Hornacek and pushing was involved and Noah was odd man out before Hornacek was odd man out. It was a soap opera that made sense on both ends. Noah was agitated he was getting zero playing time on a lottery team that sucked. Hornacek was stressed about coaching a disaster without a star. Tempers got the best of both of them but the Knicks had the most to lose. After that bit of rebelliousness, it guaranteed the Knicks would never find a sucker for Noah’s bloated contract.
Noah still has two years left on his deal. No one is going to vomit up money and gut their team for someone who cannot play other than garbage time. Perhaps, if it was an expiring deal and Team A wanted to clear cap room, it would be worth it. You can always sell tanking. But it is that extra year that Jax allowed that is killing the Knicks and is forcing this Noah stretch provision hand, similar to what the Brooklyn Nets had to do with Deron Williams.
Players have eroded in the middle of their deals and so this isn’t about Noah suddenly losing his game ala Carmelo, when at the beginning of his contract he could play and then Father Time hit him on the head with a baseball bat. Noah never should have been offered this deal. Nothing on the Noah resume said he was worth it. He was always a 14 and 10 player who could defend but $75 million is reserved for an impact player. Best player. Or, second best. Noah was a defender. Defender’s don’t get that kind of jack. Not in this era.
Phil was playing checkers while Noah’s agent, Bill Duffy, was playing chess. Guess who won?
The 9th pick in the 2007 draft has long exhausted his usefulness but Jackson was under pressure to do something in the summer of 2016, to spend money regardless. He followed up the Noah signing with another bad deal in Courtney Lee.
Jackson was a terrible Knicks President. Egregious. Atrocious. He may have thought he understood talent (Kristaps Porzingis) but he had no concept of value and how NBA teams need flexibility. He single handedly thrust the Knicks into financial purgatory, of which they can’t escape even if they waive Joakim Noah. They still have to pay him.