After giving his heart, soul and body to the Chicago Bulls since 2007, the end of Joakim Noah’s tenure with the team was effectively locked in as early as October with how Fred Hoiberg handled his benching. Noah quickly signed in free agency with the New York Knicks on a four-year, $72 million deal.
Noah has long been one of the NBA’s most gifted passing bigs and that ability should age well in the right system where he can play around the elbow and also in dribble hand offs. But Noah is incapable of stretching the floor even to 10-15 feet and teams can just completely sag off him to defend passing lanes when he has the ball and help off him when he doesn’t.
Noah is not providing any contribution in transition and similarly is not a threat to score as the roll man.
Noah’s defensive impact does not involve rim protection with a block rate of around 3.3 but he still has been good on that end of the floor even as he’s begun to show some physical decline. Noah had a Defensive Plus Minus of 2.44, which ranked 32nd in the NBA, albeit 21st amongst centers as the stat undoubtedly overvalues their contribution.
Noah is 31 and plays like an old 31. The one potential upside of Noah playing only 29 games this season after dislocating his left shoulder in January is that he’ll have nine full months of much needed rest on the tires. The optics of Noah having a season-ending injury is bad but it wasn’t a lower body issue and is not suggestive of any type of chronic concern.
Because Noah has never been particularly reliant on his athleticism, there is a hope that he’ll continue to be productive based on his IQ and effort level but the trajectory of his physical decline feels severe. Noah was Defensive Player of the Year and All-NBA First Team center in 2014, which feels like a lifetime ago for him instead of just two years ago. The Knicks are hoping for the 2014 to return until the year 2020.
There were no sure things on the center market but a four-year deal for Noah is enormously problematic, especially since the deal contains no options or partial guarantees for the Knicks.
The problem with this way of team building the Knicks have found themselves pursuing an uncountable number of times is that it is unsustainable even if it breaks perfectly right. The Knicks were locked into their normal short-term pursuits from the moment they re-signed Carmelo Anthony and also gave him a full no-trade clause. This became a problematic direction as soon as it became apparent how good Kristaps Porzingis is and how all moves should be made with his future in mind.
Unless Noah becomes his 2014 self again in 2016, the Knicks had a better center on a better contract in Robin Lopez already signed, which would have allowed them more space to pursue free agents both this year and next that also fit in better with Porzingis’ timeline. I'll enjoy certainly seeing Noah and Rose joining Carmelo and Porzingis at MSG but I'm skeptical that we'll look back on this move as being a prudent one if the Knicks are starting from scratch around a 24-year-old Porzingis.
Grade for Knicks: C-
Noah wanted to leave Chicago with how the past two years progressed. Noah was on a five-year, $60 million extension signed in 2010 that was below market value and he was unable to hit the open market again during the middle of his prime and that cost him a max deal. After waiting an extra season at Florida to turn pro, Noah came into the NBA at the age of 22 and didn’t get any player options in his extension, which is the real issue in hindsight. Noah is 31 getting his third contract while Kevin Durant will be playing his 28-year-old season on his third contract after leaving Texas as a freshman.
Noah’s contract is far longer than most anticipated and he gets to play in a city he loves with a former teammate in Rose, a still good Carmelo and a future All-Star big in Porzingis, which has some upside even if the pessimism for the outcome is real.
Grade for Joakim Noah: B
The Bulls are notoriously cheap and unsentimental, so there’s really no shock with how quickly their best core of players since the retirement of Michael Jordan have disappeared. Chicago traded away Luol Deng for a pick they still haven’t received and rid themselves of Rose and Noah in one week’s time. The Bulls remain typically competitive but never great with this modus operandi. A superstar free agent should never consider signing with Chicago based on this track record.
The Knicks and Bulls are two of the NBA’s three biggest market franchises and couldn’t be more different from each other with how they choose to function, which is probably why they’ve done so much business together over the years, dating back to the Jamal Crawford and Eddy Curry sign-and-trades of more than a decade ago, which is coincidentally how Chicago ended up with Noah in a pick swap to begin with.
Grade for Bulls: C