Joakim Noah benched as ugly start can be pinned on Phil Jackson

When Phil Jackson defied all reason and logic by handing Joakim Noah a four-year, $72 million contract last July there is no way the Zen Master could have envisioned his defensive anchor being replaced by Ron Baker in the third quarter of the fourth game.

For defensive purposes.

“It’s tough,” Noah would say afterwards.

Jeff Hornacek’s team has already established a troubling identity for themselves; they can’t execute an offense and they are embarrassingly soft and utterly un-organized defensively. That’s a bad combination.

Byron Scott: Phil Jackson should stop coaching or fire Hornacek

With an old friend, Mike D’Antoni, on the opposing bench and James Harden toying with the Knicks and looking every bit like an MVP, the Rockets humiliated Hornacek’s team 118-99 in a game that was over by halftime. Suddenly all the optimism of the preseason has turned into angst.

Kristaps Porzingis is invisible and ignored, Carmelo Anthony isn’t moving well, Derrick Rose can attack the basket for sure but at times it comes at the expense of the other players on the court. Let’s just say Rose is in full free agent contract mode.

And then there is Noah, the former All-Star center who appeared in 29 games last season due to a variety of injuries and hasn’t looked like himself in three seasons. And yet Jackson paid him as if Noah’s best years are ahead of him.

Joakim Noah is nowhere near the defensive player he once was despite being paid like it.

(JUSTIN LANE/EPA)

It’s early but as of now the defining moment of the season arrived with 3:50 remaining in the third quarter and after Harden had exposed the Knicks repeatedly on pick-and-rolls. Overall, Harden finished with 30 points and 15 assists, or three fewer than the Knicks. You have to question whether the Knicks even practice pick and roll coverage.

Why Jeff Hornacek kept Porzingis on Knicks bench vs. Pistons

It got so bad that after Harden set up Montrezl Harrell for a lay-up and a dunk on back to back possession, Hornacek motioned for Baker. The only question was who would Baker be replacing, Courtney Lee, Rose, Anthony, Porzingis or Noah? The answer surprised even Noah, who looked disappointed by the quick hook, especially after sitting for 14 minutes in the first half when the Knicks tried to match the Rockets by going small.

When Hornacek replaced the former Defensive Player of the Year with a rookie jump shooter out of Wichita State, Noah took the walk of shame from the foul line to the bench. He briefly exchanged words with Hornacek before taking a seat and never returning.

“We’re trying to put two on the ball and we gave up lay-ups on back-to-back plays,” Noah said.

Noah played just 18 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back and was held scoreless. He did grab two rebounds and four assists but for a player who was supposed to transform the team’s defensive culture, this had to be one of the lowest moments of Noah’s career.

It’s early, but Knicks have avoided crisis mode once already

The mistake, however, would be to blame Noah for all the Knicks issues on the defensive end and for the Knicks falling to 1-3. Porzingis shot 0-for-4 while Rose and Anthony combined for 37 points on 33 shots. And with the Knicks playing their second game in two nights, their lack of quality depth is apparent.

Phil Jackson with Noah and head coach Jeff Hornacek (l.).

Phil Jackson with Noah and head coach Jeff Hornacek (l.).

(Julie Jacobson/AP)

And that all falls on Jackson, the triangle obsessed team president. His irrational fixation with an out of date offense is what led him to hire Hornacek while not even bothering to interview the best free agent coach available, Tom Thibodeau.

So Hornacek gets the job and after the second game of the season – and the Knicks only win – Jackson waits until the media is allowed into practice to make a big production out of talking to several players about – what else? – The triangle. Way to undermine your head coach and send mixed messages to the players in the first week of the season.

Here’s an idea, the next time Phil feels the urge to teach he should give his players a tutorial in team defense. Or hire someone to do it.

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“The defense hasn’t been good,” Noah said. “We need to build better habits and be better on our one on one defense.”

The Knicks, who allowed 64 first half points to the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday, gave up 68 to the Rockets in the first 24 minutes. When Harden buried a three to end the third quarter, Houston had already hit the century mark.

Where have you gone, Pat Riley, Jeff Van Gundy and yes, Tom Thibodeau?

And what are you doing about it, Phil? 

Tags:
nba
new york knicks
joakim noah
ron baker
houston rockets
james harden
phil jackson
jeff hornacek

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