It was only last November when Joakim Noah returned to Chicago to a video tribute and led the Knicks to an emotional victory over the Bulls.
For his flailing basketball career, it may as well have been a lifetime ago.
Noah would be gone from the Knicks today if there were any takers. But the combination of his diminished health, diminished game and albatross contract have left him stuck on a team where he’s fourth on the depth chart at center, often inactive or never coming off the bench.
On Friday — a day before his second return to the United Center since signing with the Knicks — Noah declined to address the media as he whizzed by the scrum.
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“I’m good,” he said.
Following his DNP on Wednesday, Noah told the Daily News that Chicago will always be a special place and he has to be prepared since he graduated to the active roster lately.
Oftentimes players get a boost when matched up against their former teams. But Jeff Hornacek said that will not be a consideration when deciding whether to play Noah.
“No,” the coach said. “Sometimes that’s good but he’s been back last year. Usually — and I’ve been on a few different teams — the first time, yes (there’s a boost), but after that it becomes just another game.”
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Unless the Knicks package him with draft picks and top young talent, Noah is untradeable. He is 32 and is owed over $55 million over the next three seasons and played more minutes this season in the G-League (23) than in the NBA (11).
A buyout wouldn’t help the Knicks’ cap space — which, depending on what Enes Kanter does with his player option, probably will be close to zero this summer — unless they waive Noah via the stretch exception. That would add years to the length of Noah’s contract but cut the yearly cap hit.
It’s not an ideal solution, but perhaps the best one, depending on who the Knicks are targeting in free agency.
The fact that this is even a discussion underscores how far Noah has fallen since winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2014. The difference between the Bulls and Phil Jackson, however, is that the former recognized the decline before he hit free agency and the latter handed out a four-year, $74 million contract.
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Even Noah recognizes he can no longer reclaim his old form.
“Probably not,” he said recently. “I can help. I feel like I could help this team, and that’s just my reality. “But I just want to, you know, just be the best that I can be. It’s not about trying to be what I was three, four years ago, because it’s not the reality.”
Four seasons ago, Noah finished fourth in the MVP voting after leading the Bulls to 48 wins. Now he’s the untradeable fourth center on the Knicks with no guarantees he’ll get off the bench or even be on the active roster.
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To jar the memory (since we know you’ve wanted to forget), Jackson brought in Lauri Markkanen for a predraft workout while fielding trade offers for Porzingis in June. Ultimately, the Bulls acquired Markkanen with the seventh overall pick — one spot before the Knicks drafted — as Porzingis remained in New York and Jackson was fired.
“Maybe it was the plan,” said Porzingis, who was in Latvia at the time of the draft but followed the developments on Twitter. “It didn’t go that way but I’m happy I’m still here.”
Markkanen, who is from Finland, has put up nice numbers as a rookie in Chicago, averaging 14.3 points and 7.9 boards going into Friday’s game against the Hornets. However, he was shooting under 40 percent and the Bulls own the worst record in the NBA.
“He’s having a great year so far,” Porzingis said. “He can shoot it from outside, He’s actually much more stronger than I was when I came into the league. I would say he’s more NBA-ready than when I came in. I was actually surprised to see him perform at that level at the European Championships (over the summer). So at that moment, I saw him, I said I knew he’d be able to do that in the NBA also.”
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