Joakim Noah is on the minds of many Knicks fans these days. Unlike with Kevin Durant, New York seems pretty high on his list, particularly if this New York Post article is to be believed. And it all makes sense: Noah is a native New Yorker, the Knicks need a center.
But how much their needs actually intertwine is a matter of perspective, and far more complicated than it may seem at first blush. I'm not even talking about Noah's shooting percentage or defensive effectiveness or his injury history or any of that ... I'm talking about what Noah wants in a team vs. what the Knicks want in a center.
Here's a decent breakdown of what Noah is reported to want:
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Sunday money isn't the No. 1 priority for Noah. The newspaper cited three factors: a chance to win, a chance to start and finish games and joining a club that would get behind his Noah's Arc Foundation. The report stated it would be "naive" to think Noah would just go for the highest offer.
Cool! Less money! Unfortunately, it makes no mention of the real issue with his contract: years. Would Noah be satisfied with a short, prove-yourself deal, or is he looking for security in his thirties? And if winning is his main goal, would he really want to sign a shorter deal with the Knicks over a ready-made contender? That could pose a problem.
Now let's look at things from the Knicks' perspective. Yes, they could use a center; the real question is how badly do they think they need one. According to Basketball-Reference, Kristaps Porzingis played 30% of his minutes at center last season, and that number figures to rise in 2016-17. Now that the Knicks are coached by Jeff Hornacek, a guy who has shown a willingness to play small in the past (LOL at calling a lineup with a 7'3" center "small", but whatever), Kristaps could very well spend more than half his minutes at the 5.
So Noah wants to start? That's no problem ... next season. But Hornacek is a coach who (we hope, at least) plans on putting out his most effective lineups. That may very well include playing Kristaps at center. Will Noah pout if he's kept on the bench in crunch time because the coach favors a smaller lineup? Perhaps more importantly, will he accept the fact that Porzingis may eventually supplant him as starting center as soon as next season?
This is what I found so annoying about the decision to trade Robin Lopez. Not only was he a terrific center, he seemed to understand that he was only holding down the starting job temporarily. He didn't complain when Derek Fisher didn't use him late in games, even when that was clearly the wrong choice. He would have been fine with Kristaps taking on a bigger role next season, and if he wanted to move on before the end of his contract, the team could easily oblige him. He was in many ways the perfect veteran mentor for the young Unicorn, and his replacement will have to pick up some of that load.
The Knicks no longer have the luxury of a good veteran center who could not only play with Kristaps, but was willing to cede playing time if that's what is best for the franchise's cornerstone. Can someone like Joakim Noah fill that void? Perhaps. He seems like a great teammate. He knows how to play stout defense as an underweight center, and he can certainly teach Kristaps a thing or two about passing. But is he willing to play that role? It all depends on what he wants out of the relationship.