In case you didn’t see this weekend’s article by Alex Kennedy of Hoopsworld, allow me to fill you in:
Rather than showing up early for this year’s training camp — which begins today, by the way — Joakim Noah is showing up close to the last minute.
Not late, mind you. Just not early.
This is a semi-big deal because, as Kennedy put it, “the team likes to have its players accounted for several days, often several weeks before camp.”
Instead of raising his hand and declaring himself present, Joakim went flew to France to visit his father. And although I have no doubt Noah hearts his dad something fierce, that wasn’t really the point. Jo’s point was to inform Bulls management that he’s not happy about the “in limbo” status of his contract extension.
The Bulls have reportedly offered Noah a five-year extension worth $57 million. According to Kennedy, Noah wants $70 million over five years but would go as “low” as $65 million “because of his love for the city and organization.”
I guess love isn’t priceless. It’s worth about $5 million. Good to know.
A player showing up to training camp only on time doesn’t exactly rank among the great contract disputes in league history. However, it did lead to a weekend full of questions about Noah’s monetary value. Brendan Jackson of Celtics Hub thinks Noah doesn’t deserve $70 million because last season Boston’s Rajon Rondo signed for a “measely” $55 million. As Jackson put it: “Rajon Rondo is clearly worth more than Joakim Noah and should be paid as such one way or the other. Since Rondo has already signed his contract there is no way Noah should get 70 million.”
Ahem. Let me repeat for emphasis: Ahem. I’ll be very interested to see if that assessment holds up a few years from now when Rondo isn’t passing the ball to Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and is the centerpiece of a team that can’t cover up for his poor outside shooting and inability to knock down free throws (which seriously affected the Celtics chances the 2010 NBA Finals, by the way).
But I digress.
At Bleacher Report, they’re trying to put a price on Noah’s head relative to other centers with similar Player Efficiency Rating (PER) scores.
At the risk of being dismissive, I’m going to dismiss these calculations. The Rondo versus Noah comparison is apples and oranges, and it misses cogent points. The center-to-center juxtapositions also overlook important contextual matters.
If we’re going to seriously discuss Noah’s comparitive worth, wouldn’t it make more sense to determine his value relative to the Bulls versus other teams? Clearly, Joakim wouldn’t be worth $70 million to Boston GM Danny Ainge, who has Kendrick Perkins, Jermaine O’Neal and Shaq at center. From that perspective, I guess I can see where Celtics Hub is coming from.
But let’s look at how the Bulls have been constructed. Presumably, Chicago’s top two scoring options are going to be Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer. These players also happen to be, potentially, the team’s biggest defensive liabilities. If you’re going to build a team around two brilliant offensive players who struggle to stay in front of their opponents, you’re going to need a big man who is equally brilliant at cleaning up his teammates’ mistakes.
Furthermore, new Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau (unless I am very much mistaken) is going to make defense the foundation of this team. Assuming he follows the formula he worked to near-perfection in Boston, he’ll need a defensive anchor: An energetic and passionate big man who can communicate, rotate, switch and help control the boards. You know, the role Kevin Garnett has played for the Celtics the last three seasons.
If the Bulls lost Noah for some reason, who do you suppose is going to fill those roles? Who’s going to have Rose and Boozer’s backs? Who’s going to anchor Thibodeau’s defensive scheme? Kurt Thomas? Omer Asik? Brian Scalabrine?
Joakim’s PER may be a few points below Rajon Rondo’s. (Although, to be fair, Noah’s PER took a hit when he got injured last season. During the early months, his PER was consistently 20+). Other centers who earn less (or even significantly less) than $14 million per year have a comparable PER.
Sure. I get that.
But what does that mean? Rondo can’t come to Chicago and play center. And there’s no reason to believe that centers with similar PER could do for the Bulls what Noah has already shown he can do.
Ergo: Noah is worth more to the Bulls than he is on the open market.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the Bulls should give in to unreasonable demands. These are negotiations, people. Hasn’t anyone ever bought a new or used car? The car has a sticker price. The salesman says he can make you an even better deal. You state firmly that you can’t pay that and make a counteroffer. The salesman says there’s no way he could go that low and makes a counteroffer of his own. You threaten to walk out of the dealership. The salesman threatens to pull his generous offer. This junk goes back and forth until a price is agreed on, after which you leave the lot with the car you wanted and the salesman earns his paycheck.
If every step of these negotiations made the newspapers and blogs, we’d all feel pretty silly. “Matt McHale wants that car for only %15,000? Is he crazy? I paid $17,000 for the same car and I’m a great negotiator…there’s no way he should pay less for that car than I did. And look at this list of other people who bought the same car. They all paid more than McHale is offering. The salesman should kick him off the lot!”
Man, I’m glad the details of my last car purchase didn’t get any press coverage. But I digress again.
Is Joakim worth $14 million per year? I don’t know. I really don’t. And it’s not for me to decide. The Bulls will decide what they are comfortable paying him. Noah will decide what he’s comfortable making. Mind you, comfort isn’t a hard figure. It’s a range, for both sides. There will be haggling. Most likely, everybody will get a little frustrated. And at some point, Noah is going to sign an extension.
To be honest, I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. Going into this summer, the Bulls hoarded cap space in order to radically improve the team. They then went out and used that cap space. It’s gone. Past that, we knew the team was going to have to shell out even more cash to extend Rose and Noah. In other words, the team was going to be over the cap — for years — no matter what they did. Lowballing Noah now isn’t going to benefit the Bulls. It’s not going to free up cap room that will allow them to bring in somebody who’s much better or even as good.
I”m not suggesting the Bulls should spend recklessly. Far from it. Luol Deng’s contract stands as a lasting monument to the dangers of (somewhat) dangerous spending. I just hope both sides can come to a reasonable agreement. I think Noah is worth it.