Now that team president Phil Jackson has secured the services of a starting point guard with last week’s acquisition of Derrick Rose, the New York Knicks have their sights set on a low-post presence capable of working with their star-studded starting five, and soon-to-be free agent center Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls would be a perfect fit.
After sending center Robin Lopez to the Bulls in last week’s five-player trade, Jackson was left with an unexpected slot to fill in the post alongside Kristaps Porzingis. Fortunately for the Knicks, Lopez wasn’t exactly known for his offensive abilities, averaging a satisfactory 10.3 points per game for last season’s sub-500 squad.
But Lopez was a solid defender whose greatest contributions were rarely recorded, and a player who made life much easier for Porzingis, often sticking to the opposition’s most productive low-post presence like glue so the team’s young forward could concentrate on his offensive game. Obviously, Lopez never set the NBA on fire, and ideally, his replacement will be an upgrade on both ends of the floor.
Known primarily for passion and hustle, Noah was limited to just 29 games last season by a shoulder injury that clearly contributed to a career-low 4.3 points per game. On the glass, he still topped Lopez [7.3 rpg] with 8.8 rebounds a night, and despite missing 15 games during the 2014-15 campaign, Noah is still just two years removed from earning 2014 NBA Defensive Player Of The Year honors and averaging career-highs in points [12.6], rebounds [11.3], and assists [5.4].
And, in the same way that Lopez’ defensive-minded approached helped Porzingis on both ends of the floor last season, the Knicks wouldn’t have to worry about Noah’s presence placing any added strain on their fragile offense—a point made more important by both Rose’s arrival and the fact that New York is still going to add a starting shooting guard before the beginning of next season.
After playing eight seasons alongside the Brooklyn-born center in Chicago, it’s no surprise that Rose is already throwing his full support behind New York’s pursuit of Noah. And after partying in a Manhattan nightclub with Noah the night before his introductory press conference, Rose essentially told the media that there’s no other center he’d rather play with.
”Oh I want him,” said Rose. ”He knows that. I think his family knows that. I think everyone knows that.”
”Even last night I was talking to him [Noah] about it,” added the newest Knick. ”And it’s the same way. He’s in a position where he got injured twice last year and it was his contract year and he’s got to figure out what he wants to do so I can’t get mad with the decision he will make soon or whenever he makes it.”
With the beginning of free agency set for July 1, rumors have suggested that the Washington Wizards are also interested in Noah and are reportedly prepared to offer the former Florida Gator a maximum contract. Along with Washington’s rumored interest, the Knicks may also be competing with the Minnesota Timberwolves and former Bulls’ bench boss Tom Thibodeau who’d love to lure his favorite center to the land of 10,000 lakes.
If Noah refuses the Knicks, Jackson will probably turn his attention to Chicago’s Pau Gasol due mainly to the relationship they developed while with the LA Lakers. The Zen Master unsuccessfully pursued Gasol with limited funds two years ago, and a lot of folks seem to believe that he could join the Knicks for a variety of reasons such as his interest in New York City and a desire to reunite with Jackson.
Nearly 36-years-old, Gasol averaged a double-double for the second straight year last season with 16.5 points and 11.0 rebounds a night over 70 games for the Bulls, and understandably, Jackson would love to have him act as a mentor to Porzingis.
Now that Dwight Howard is opting out of his contract with the Houston Rockets, many residents of Knick Nation are hoping that the 30-year old center considers taking his talents to the Big Apple. But with the league’s recent salary cap increase and Howard’s ego, Jackson and the Knicks would probably have to make Howard one of the team’s highest paid players—an unlikely scenario with Anthony and Rose on the roster.
Of course, if Noah and Gasol both shun New York, Jackson can’t stomach the thought of pursuing the likes of Toronto Raptors’ center Bismack Biyombo, and the self-proclaimed ”Superman” lowers his price, there’s a chance that Howard could become a Knick.
Ultimately, Jackson knows that anything can happen in the coming weeks, and during last week’s pre-draft press conference at the team’s practice facility, he mentioned that this year’s free agent market is somewhat unique.
”This is a very unsteady year for free agency. There are a lot of things that are on the horizon,” said Jackson. ”There’s a tremendous amount of money that’s back in the system this year. So it’s hard to judge that right now. But we have our plan, we have our options.”
With an aging superstar itching for league-wide recognition, an injury-plagued former MVP hellbent on quieting his critics, and the future of the franchise already locked into New York’s starting lineup, the Knicks can’t just plug anyone into the center position.
While promising, New York’s offensive trio will only work if everyone, even Anthony, agrees to make some statistical sacrifices. And with the arrival of a score-first shooting guard not far off, Noah is the only option that offers the Knicks everything they’ll need without disturbing their delicate balance.
[Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images]