It was a big story earlier this week that Joakim Noah might have been telling certain unnamed teammates that he was no longer interested in playing for Chicago, but the minute Noah shut it down for the season with that shoulder injury back in January, there were stories in the local papers asking whether he had played his last game in a Bulls uniform.
The guy is an unrestricted free agent and he very obviously wasn’t utilized as well under head coach Fred Hoiberg as he was under Tom Thibodeau. Nobody who finished in the top five in MVP votes just two short years ago enjoys being relegated to the bench, whether he were to say it publicly or not, and all that buzz about him not having a ton of confidence in the front office isn’t even all that insane a thing to say. If Noah decides to move on to another team, nobody will blame him and nobody will be surprised.
From Chicago’s perspective, it will be hard to match the money sure to be thrown Noah’s way this summer, anyway. His injury history won’t make it easy to pay Noah what he’s probably worth on the open market, which – regardless of fit or professional satisfaction – is more than enough to consider him a goner.
So that begs the question: where will Noah end up if not Chicago? Here’s a look at five teams that could serve as a logical landing place for the big man:
Minnesota Timberwolves – One of the first teams that always comes up in conjunction with Noah is the Wolves, primarily because that’s where Tom Thibodeau will be coaching next season and it’s no secret that Noah played his best, most inspired professional basketball under Thibs. Of course, Thibodeau isn’t the only reason to look at Minnesota as a desirable landing spot, as they are absolutely rife with young talent right now and need supplementary veteran help a lot more than a me-first All-Star to build around. Noah fits that bill, and he could get away with playing only about 20 minutes a game there to help preserve his body if he so wished. They’re a team on the rise with a reasonable role for Noah, and they’re coached by a guy he adores. Hearing his name in conjunction with the T-Pups is about as logical as it gets.
Dallas Mavericks – The Mavericks haven’t been quite the same since letting Tyson Chandler go following their 2011 championship season, and while Noah isn’t necessarily in his prime anymore, he could play the same sort of role for that team. Alongside Dirk Nowitzki, Noah could help cover defensively, but open things in half-court sets. He’d be a much better fit in a lineup like that, especially considering bigger minutes could be there if he still wants them. Plus, Mark Cuban lets his players be who they are to a certain extent, so he’d happily accept a big personality like Noah. And Texas doesn’t have any state income tax, which doesn’t hurt the sales pitch either. They’re an older team, so Noah wouldn’t be joining some upstart potential title contender, but he’d have a role in a lineup that makes sense for him. Frankly, it is, at the very least, a better situation for him than Chicago is right now.
Charlotte Hornets – If Noah could survive Thibodeau with a smile on his face, then he might actually like Hornets head coach Steve Clifford, another tough head coach who should fit somewhere in between the daily insanity of Thibs and the much more hands-off Hoiberg. He’s also got a good relationship with Nic Batum, should the Hornets re-sign him – though Noah’s rebounding, vision and energy would be a nice fit in Charlotte with or without Batum. A starting spot wouldn’t be guaranteed there, but Noah certainly would be in the mix for it. At the very least, he’d be the kind of sub who plays 28 minutes a game, and you can bet he’d be in the game when it mattered. The Hornets are pointing northward, and Noah’s veteran presence would nudge them even further in the right direction.
New York Knicks – Because Noah’s a New York guy with a big New York personality, Knicks fans can’t help but hope that he finds his way to Madison Square Garden next season. While the fit would be kind of weird for him, Howard Beck of Bleacher Report already has suggested that Phil Jackson will go after Noah in free agency this offseason:
LRT: If Noah's leaving Bulls, expect Knicks to make a strong pitch. Phil Jackson and Noah have a rapport. And Noah has NY roots.
— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) May 25, 2016
Of course, New York already has Robin Lopez to start at center, but if Noah’s willing to play fewer minutes for a team like Minnesota, why wouldn’t he also be willing to play fewer minutes for his home team? If he’s willing to play more of a reserve role, he’d be a big help in the Big Apple, and his addition definitely would make Carmelo Anthony happy. It would be a nice free agency addition, especially since the team hasn’t had much success drawing All-Star talent in recent years.
Portland Trail Blazers – We’re supposed to believe that Portland only wants to sign free agents that are on the same career arc as Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but that plan may have gone out the window this season when it just so happened that the team was way further along as a title contender than anyone expected. There’s a great young core in place there, but none of those burgeoning bigs have really stepped forward as a bona fide star in the frontcourt. That means Noah would almost certainly be the everyday starter there, and his experience and toughness would do wonders for them in the postseason, where playoff experience matters so much more than young players realize. Outside of Minnesota, there might not be a more exciting or logical landing place for him, though it certainly will be fascinating to see where he ends up.
That could still be back in Chicago, for what it’s worth. The Bulls and Noah’s agent have said that Chicago is still in the mix, but it’s kind of hard to believe at this point. It seems much more likely that he moves on, and one of these five teams would make the most sense if he does.
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