Portland Trail Blazers: Joakim Noah worth exploring as insurance policy

With a questionable frontcourt rotation, the Portland Trail Blazers could benefit by picking up a cheap but reliable veteran like Joakim Noah.

We are now 25 days until the 2019-20 NBA season finally gets back into full swing, yet Joakim Noah is still somehow unemployed. While it’s understandable that some front offices would be dissuaded from signing controversial players like Carmelo Anthony or J.R. Smith, there’s really no reason why a team like the Portland Trail Blazers wouldn’t immediately benefit by having a player like Noah around.

This isn’t Joakim’s first time facing an apparent exodus from the league. Waived from the Knicks just seven games into the 2017-18 season, Noah couldn’t find a spot on another team for the rest of the year. And who could blame them? He was no longer the playmaking five he once was, contributing only 4.6 points and 2 assists per game across two seasons in New York.

He also couldn’t stay on the court, committing 6.3 fouls per 100 possessions — the worst mark since his sophomore season in 2009. Even as a starter, this limited Noah to less than 20 minutes on the court per contest. That’s just not acceptable for a guy getting paid over $18 million per year.

Back in December of 2018, Noah spoke about his attitude problem while in New York and how he’d like to get back to his prior form after Memphis decided to give him another chance in the league on the Chris Vernon Show.

One year I’m playing 30-35 minutes and then injuries just started piling up, and then I got this crazy deal with the Knicks, and then the next thing you know I’m not playing any more. Got kicked off the team. It was just a crazy time, I wasn’t sure I was going to get another opportunity to play again… I could look back and say I thought I was ready for New York City — but you know, I wasn’t. It’s something that I got to live with… I remember after the first game I probably had like 60 people in my house. Too lit- I’m too lit to play in New York City.

And he was right! Moving to a more low-key environment in Memphis with no pressure and expectations to live up to his massive contract did wonders for Noah’s game. In just 16.5 minutes per contest, Joakim put up a respectable 7.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per contest.

But as time went on and he continually shook the rust off after a long vacation, Noah only got better and better. From February on, those averages substantially rose to 10.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists and one block per game to top it all off.

At his absolute peak, Noah was a real force to be reckoned with. In 2014, Noah won the Defensive Player of the Year Award, was nominated to the All-NBA First Team and even came fourth in MVP voting. Although he’s never tasted the Larry O’Brien Trophy, he led the Florida Gators to two consecutive national championships in 2006 and 2007. Building off that experience could be an enormous asset for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Despite his previous character issues in New York, there’s reason to believe that was the exception, not the norm. Noah’s presence in the locker room played a huge role in developing Chicago’s gritty culture for years. He was a presence the team looked to when in doubt; there’s a reason why the Bulls collapse directly coincides with Noah’s departure, even with stars like Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade on the roster.

Noah also won the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 2015. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Damian Lillard recently won the same award just last year. It’s no hyperbole to say that Noah had the same cultural impact in Chicago that Dame has had in Portland. Terry Porter and Brian Grant are the other two Blazers to have previously won the award.

But let’s put all that aside. We know Joakim’s a great guy. It’s clear he can still ball out. Making a move like this only makes sense if the roster actually has a need for depth at the most replaceable position in the league at center.

Let’s take a look at the current frontcourt rotation.

Does that look like a rotation that you could confidently put all your faith in heading into next season? Sure, Noah isn’t perfect himself either. He wouldn’t still be available at this point if he was. But with so many uncertainties, it makes sense to pick up a talented veteran like Noah in the event any of the new additions don’t pan out or the roster suffers another injury.

If Portland wants to emulate the success Denver has had with running Nikola Jokic as a point-center capable of making plays for his teammates, there’s no better option on the market than Noah. His ability to take the ball up the court and find open looks for shooters like Lillard, CJ McCollum and Rodney Hood would be a crucial game changer.

With only one roster spot remaining, the Portland Trail Blazers would be wise to add a facet to the team that they don’t already have around. No available free agents bring that to the table except for Jo. He would be the perfect insurance policy in the event anything goes wrong in the frontcourt rotation, and could easily transition to the Portland lifestyle without getting overwhelmed by distractions.

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For a franchise that values loyalty and leadership in the locker room as much as the Blazers, it’s hard to imagine a better fit for the seemingly forgotten but still capable Joakim Noah.