I guess I owe the New York Knicks’ front office an apology.
When it became glaringly clear the team would part with veteran big man Joakim Noah, I blamed the team for the irreparable rupture. At this point in my life it has become little more than a reflex — something bad happened, so I should blame the Knicks. It’s a reflex that has rarely, if ever, led me astray.
Why did Noah have to go? Sure, he was a shell of his Defensive Player of the Year prime, but nobody really expected him to shoulder a heavy load with the 2018-19 club. True, he was kicked off the team last season for fighting with head coach Jeff Hornacek, but Hornacek was gone, fired for overall incompetence. All Noah had to do was play a few minutes a night and impart some much-needed wisdom on young Knick defenders, particularly rookie center Mitchell Robinson. That seemed far more sensible than releasing Noah outright, without a penny in returned salary, just waiting for him to catch on with a better franchise. There had to be something more to this story, right? Right?
As it turns out, there was much more to Noah’s dismissal, and it was Noah himself, how a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, who laid out all the juicy details on Chris Vernon’s radio show.
“I can look back at it and say I was ready for New York City, but I wasn’t,” Noah said. “Not just the pressure. I remember after the first game I had 60 people in my house. I’m too lit to play in New York City. Memphis is perfect for me.”
When asked about his early career in Chicago, Noah replied, “We were lit in Chicago but I was young so you recover faster.”
Following the interview, Stefan Bondy reported that the Knicks were well aware of Noah’s partying, and forbade young players, including Frank Ntilikina, from going out with the veteran.
This whole incident will be portrayed as just another comic episode for the franchise, who have paraded through the 21st century with all the finesse of Sideshow Bob stepping on an endless field of rakes. LOL, dumbass Knicks got fleeced again. Meanwhile, Noah has clearly brushed aside his time in New York as a learning experience. He’ll probably catch less heat than “soft” 19-year-old Kevin Knox did for struggling for a few weeks coming back from a knee injury.
Noah shouldn’t be able to just skate by on the dirty details of his Knicks tenure, even if he was honest enough to admit his faults. This wasn’t some young rube from the countryside taking signing on to play in the big city — Noah was 31 when he signed, and he grew up in freakin’ Hell’s Kitchen. Too lit to play in New York? Perhaps the first three decades of your life could have clued you into that fact. Yes, Phil Jackson was stupid enough to give him four years and $72 million. Noah was already injury-prone at that point, and there was virtually no chance his body would hold up throughout his deal. But at that age a player would — I hope — feel some semblance of responsibility to provide an example to his younger teammates. Instead, Noah was so out of control that the Knicks were willing to swallow the remainder of his contract to keep him away from a rebuilding squad.
I was fooled by Joakim Noah. I knew from the start he wasn’t worth four years and $72 million, but I recalled the burning intensity and peerless defensive instincts he displayed on the court and figured he’d at least provide a good role model in his declining years. He most certainly did not. And it’s not like he’s the first big-name veteran to treat the franchise like an ATM stop on the way to New York night clubs. Perhaps this is the Knicks’ fate — the organization is a joke, so players treat it like a joke, even as they grab for handfuls of that sweet, sweet free agent cash.
Maybe the next dude to sign here will be different. Maybe.