Storyline: Joakim Noah Free Agency

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Here’s how the mathematics work. On Sept. 1, Noah will be deemed to have one remaining year on his pact after the current season. Hence, on that date, if waived under the stretch provision, the $19.2 million left would be stretched over three years — counting against the cap in the summers of 2019, 2020 and 2021. That amounts to about $6.5 million each year. As for the Knicks’ 2019 cap savings, instead of having $19.2 million count on the cap, the number would be $6.5 million. In exchange, the Knicks would have Noah count against the cap for an additional two summers.

Noah called Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, President Michael Reinsdorf, executive vice president John Paxson, general manager Gar Forman and other organizational members when his nine-season run with the Bulls ended. But it’s also clear the Knicks leaped to the forefront of his free-agency choices as soon as the Bulls traded close friend Derrick Rose to the Knicks on June 22. “When the Derrick trade went down, it was for a center, for Robin (Lopez),” Noah said. “So I knew that there was going to be a (Knicks) need for a center. I remember my agent telling me this team was going to be an option and this team was going to be an option. And I couldn’t even think about anything but playing for New York. My mind was already set on where I wanted to play. It made too much sense — hometown, Derrick, Phil (Jackson), just everything. For me, it’s like a dream come true.”

It was clear during an interview last week in his Chicago residence, with its sweeping views of Lake Michigan and the skyline, that leaving the Bulls in the right way was important to him. “I have no anger towards nobody,” Noah said. “If we had a couple rough years at the end, I’m just still so grateful for the opportunity the Bulls gave me. It’s like a family to me. Even though it’s a new chapter for the end of my career to be in New York, I think Chicago is always going to be a home to me. Everywhere I go in this city, it’s always love. If I’m walking in the airport, wherever I am and someone’s from Chicago, it’s never animosity or negative or why did you leave us? It’s always very appreciative. And it’s humbling. I know free agency is a business. But I feel I always show a lot of respect for this city and its people. And I get love back for it. And it feels good.”

About five years ago, Noah says that he paid a visit to Phil Jackson at the Zen Master’s Montana retreat, after Jackson had left the Lakers’ bench and was semi-retired. The trip, which was sparked by mutual friends of both Noah and Jackson, now seems to have been a hint of things to come. “My father used to make me read (Jackson’s) books when I was a kid. I hate reading books, but I read his books,” says Noah. “I had an opportunity to go to Montana and meet (Jackson). So I took the plane, went to Montana, and I knock on his door. We start talking and he goes, ‘Why are you here?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ It was a great couple days. I got an opportunity to meet one of the legends and spend time with him. Life works in mysterious ways. Now we’re here.”

“I’ve been injured for the last couple years. It sucks. As an athlete, trust me, there’s nothing more I want than to be on the court. It doesn’t matter what anybody writes. At the end of the day, nobody cares about this s— more than me. I know. I’m the one putting in the work every day,” says Noah. “I’m going to be very passionate about this. And I always have been and always will. This is where I want to end my career, (play) ‘till the wheels fall off. Playing in this uniform means everything to me.”

“What a blessing. I feel like a rookie all over again,” says Noah, 31, as microphones and cameras record his every word and move during his Knicks introductory press conference, in which he sports a baseball cap with the logo “New York Made” on the front. “There’s definitely a buzz in the city. I think it’s on us to make it work. Winning in the Garden, I’m not gonna get a feeling like that anywhere else. I’m not here to just get a check and be happy. I want to be an animal. I want to make the city proud,” says Noah.

Can he be all that again after all those hard minutes played in Chicago over nine years? “After Chicago made him come off the bench to start last season before he hurt the shoulder, the Knicks are betting on his pride, to prove himself still one of the league’s premier centers,” Van Gundy said. “The length of the contract they’re talking about is scary, but if he’s healthy, you’re getting a really smart, tenacious player and as good a frontcourt passer as there is.”

Ian Begley: The Knicks are interested in Joakim Noah, but he isn’t the only big man on their radar. Another center some in the Knicks organization are high on is Timofey Mozgov, per league sources. The interest between Noah and the Knicks is strong and mutual. But Mozgov, an ex-Knick, provides an interesting alternative. With Carmelo Anthony, Derrick Rose and Kristaps Porzingis on the roster, the Knicks probably won’t need a high-scoring center. Mozgov doesn’t need touches and would provide mobile rim protection and rebounding. He also compares favorably to Noah in some categories (age: Mozgov is 29, Noah is 31; recent health: Noah was limited to 29 games last season due to a left shoulder injury).

Gar Forman insisted on draft night that the Bulls have every intention to sit down with free agent Joakim Noah and discuss the future come July 1. They need not bother. A source close to the situation not only shot down a report last month that the Bulls and Noah were having early “positive dialogue’’ on coming back together, but reiterated a Sun-Times story from late May in which Noah was telling teammates that he had no trust in the direction the front office was taking the team. So chalk up Forman’s optimism to the Bulls general manager simply trying to win the press conference.

According to sources, the Wiz are locked in on making a major offer to Joakim Noah. The Wizards are said to be willing to offer Noah, coming off shoulder surgery that KO’d him in January, a full maximum contract. His deal would start at $28 million and reach around $120 million over four seasons. Yeah, it’ll be that kind of crazy money for the soon-to-be former Chicago Bull. The Wizards are prepared to go all out for the 2014 NBA Defensive Player of the Year because they have glaring holes up front and already are anticipating having to win an intense bidding war.

The Knicks, as Jackson and coach Jeff Hornacek acknowledged, are now in the market for a center and a shooting guard. Jackson, as reported by the Daily News, told Rose that the Knicks will be making a run at top free agent Kevin Durant. In terms of a center, which is the deepest position in the 2016 free agent class, the options include Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. The Knicks are expected to sign Willy Hernangomez, their 2015 second-round pick, as the back-up center.

Sportando: So are you going to consider other offers, right? Noah: Sure. I’ll consider every offer on the table, no doubt. Sportando: ‘How was for you emotionally this season? Noah: Terrible. I was very disappointed, I played little minutes and then I got injured and the team didn’t reach the expectations. Very bad season but you need to learn from these things to become better.

Which of these landing spots would you see as most likely for Joakim Noah: (a) stay in Chicago (b) join Thibs in Minnesota. (c) join Billy Donovan in Oklahoma City. (d) Join the Knicks (e) other. Steve Kyler: I was told he’d be open to staying in Chicago… but I don’t think any of the scenarios you mentioned is more likely than the other. I don’t see the Thunder having the cap space to sign Noah. The last thing they need is another big. I also doubt Phil Jackson blows his cap cash on Noah either.

Noah, who is one of the more charitable players in the entire NBA, had become so annoyed with Forman that he actually turned down a chance to help Bulls Charities earlier this season. According to the player, Noah was approached by Leslie Forman – Gar’s wife, as well as the VP of Bulls Charities – to take place in “some auction where he would have to ride around town with the winner or something like that.” Noah didn’t like the way he was approached and pressured, so flatly said no. “Not like Jo at all,’’ the player said.

Paxson on Noah: “Jo’s an unrestricted free agent, as is Pau. We’ve got several of those on our roster. A lot of that, this is up to them. We are going to sit down with Jo obviously, his agent, and talk and see. Anyone who has been around us, anybody who has spoken to either Gar or I about Joakim, they know how we feel about him. He represents a lot of things that we believe in. To me, he’s one of the most genuine people I’ve ever been around in this business, as far as people go. So we have an affinity for Jo. But we’ve got to talk, we’ve got to see where it goes.”

He is an unrestricted free agent following the season and his return is in doubt as the Bulls’ roster figures to get an overhaul during the summer. Still, Noah expressed a desire to return to the Bulls. “I hope so,” he said. “Right now, I’m not trying to focus on the future. I just had season-ending surgery last week but this is all I know. I’m looking forward to see what the guys are doing and just right now it’s all about taking a step back and just focusing on getting healthy and then we’ll go from there.”

Noah acknowledged that suffering such a devastating injury with free agency looming is not an ideal situation. “It’s not easy but I know there are people out there it’s a lot harder for (so) I’m not complaining,” Noah said. “It’s all about how you bounce back. I just want to prove that I have a lot more basketball in me. It’s very humbling to go through injuries. As an athlete, the last thing you want to prepare yourself for a long season and then get hurt. But it’s part of it. It’s tough but I’ll bounce back.”

Q: What do you think you learned most from him? Joakim Noah: I think Coach Donovan is somebody who cares about his players, but really cares about his guys. I know that if something ever happened to me, I know that he would be there for me, and that’s a great feeling. I always felt like it was more than basketball with Coach Donovan. He’s the best coach that I ever had. I got nothing but love for him. I have nothing bad to say about him. I think that he’s somebody who has great balance in his life … we’re very similar in a lot of ways in terms of competitiveness. But very different, as well. I love the guy.
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September 20, 2018 | 9:58 pm EDT Update
So you mentioned the smoother lead up to the season perhaps giving you guys a more energetic vibe early. But do you still view motivation as the biggest challenge — keeping these guys motivated throughout the season? Steve Kerr: “Well, it’s inevitable when you’re staring at the long haul. It’s a nine-month season if you get to the Finals. It’s inevitable you’ll have to deal with some of that. I think this year presents some other challenges that are more healthy. For example: Fitting DeMarcus into the group once he’s ready to play will be a really good challenge for us. It’s an intellectual challenge for our guys because you’re not plugging in a standstill 3-point shooter. You’re plugging in an All-Star player who can dominate a game with the ball. It’s a bigger challenge to figure out how the piece fits and what combinations are going to work best. So I like the challenge and I think the players will embrace that challenge. Whereas last year always felt like autopilot. As long as we were healthy, we always kind of knew what we were going to do. We had a formula. We just kind of went for nine months. There will be more variety this year.”
Do you have any read on where DeMarcus is health-wise right now? I know he won’t be ready for the start of camp next week, but how much do you think he’ll be able to do, how much will be around the practice portions? Steve Kerr: “Well, he’s been around the last few weeks. He rehabbed in Las Vegas over the summer, but he’s been here (in the Bay Area) the last few weeks, settling into his new home and new life. He’s on the court every day working. He’s so skilled. He’s got such great hands, shoots the ball so well, fantastic passer. He’s been working on all that stuff. So he’ll do as much as he can during camp and that will be decided by our training staff, headed by Rick Celebrini and Drew Yoder. We’ll confer with them every day.”
Storyline: DeMarcus Cousins Injury
There’s the typical way an NBA team signs a free agent: Team reaches out to said free agent, makes an offer and player accepts. And then there’s the Briante Weber way, the proactive path that led him back to South Florida for a second tour with the Heat. Weber, unemployed this summer after stints last season with Houston and Memphis, decided that the Heat would be the best place to jump-start his career. And so Weber made calls. Not one, not two, but enough to reach virtually everyone of importance he knew within the organization.
“I reached out to the whole Heat coaching staff from top to bottom,” Briante Weber said at Bam Adebayo’s culinary charity event last week. “I reached out to [Heat vice president/player personnel] Adam Simon. I reached to [Erik Spoelstra] and [assistant], Dan Craig, even coach O [Octavio De La Grana]. I reached out to the whole coaching staff and told them my style of play fits here and you guys showed me how to be a pro. I want to come back here and pay dividends and show you what I’ve learned over the years and show you I belong. They gave me an opportunity so I am here to show them what I can do again.”