ORLANDO, Fla. — Phil Jackson said he ran into Joakim Noah on the streets of New York long before they sat down for a steak dinner Friday night, and the soon-to-be free-agent center went out of his way to prove he was healthy.
“He wanted me to do a pull-up on his arm to demonstrate that his shoulder’s in fine shape,” Jackson said. “I refused.”
Noah had season-ending shoulder surgery in January and has had other injuries in recent years, but that didn’t stop Jackson from locking up the former Defensive Player of the Year. Noah agreed to a four-year, $72-million deal with the Knicks on Friday night.
After landing Noah, the Knicks turned their attention to shooting guard and reached an agreement with Courtney Lee yesterday, multiple sources said. Lee, 30, who has played for six teams in his eight-year NBA career and has averaged 9.6 points per game, will get a four-year, $48-million deal, according to one of the sources.
“We need someone that can do multiple tasks, set the table, make plays, has range, can shoot the ball,” Jackson said several hours before getting Lee.
The Knicks now have a starting five of Noah, Lee, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. Lee posted a photo of that starting unit on his Instagram page. If that group can stay healthy, they should be good enough to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks didn’t reach the postseason the past three years.
Teams are not permitted to announce signings until Thursday, and Jackson never mentioned Noah by name. But he spoke about how he can help the Knicks and particularly Porzingis, who was unable to attend the Friday dinner because of travel issues from New York. It was telling that Jackson wanted Porzingis there to meet Noah.
“I think that this guy will be a good mentor,” Jackson said. “He has an ability to coach him in his own regard as a player-to-player-type situation. He’s partnered up with Pau Gasol a couple years in Chicago. And I think those things are telling in a young guy’s education in the NBA.”
Jackson said the Knicks could open up more cap space, but before agreeing to terms with Lee, he wouldn’t comment on whether they were pursuing Dwyane Wade or if they wanted to meet with Kevin Durant. The Knicks weren’t among the six teams that got an audience with Durant despite his relationship with Anthony, who also is close with Wade.
“Carmelo’s been very active, he’s been very aggressive, he’s checked in, given us information,” Jackson said. “He’s been very much a partner in what we’re trying to do.”
Jackson said the Knicks likely wouldn’t be in play for marquee players anyway, but they’re hoping to make connections for future possibilities.
The salary cap will go up again next year and the Knicks should have significant money. As for now, Jackson said the Knicks have to spread their money around to fill all their needs, and he’s not sure they can.
“Not in this one,” he said. “I don’t think so. But we’re hopeful. We have interest. We have people we are considering. We are appealing to people’s better interest that we’re a team on the move. I think that helps.
“With a limited budget and being somewhat penurious of my own regard, we’re always trying to squeeze something extra out of it. We’re not deep on talent. We need to have a bench. So we’re trying to do multiple tasks. We hope to make connections with people that have interest or perhaps this time didn’t feel we’re in a position to move so we have opportunities at later dates.”
The Knicks could fill some roster spots by signing their own free agents. Jackson said they remain “connected to our players.”
Langston Galloway, Lance Thomas and Cleanthony Early are candidates to return. The Knicks also expect to have last year’s second-round pick, Willy Hernangomez, with them this season. Jackson said it’s important to build continuity at some point.
“We hope to bring some of our players back that are still on the market,” he said. “This is a process we’re going through now in the NBA where there’s a lot of years you’re going to have six, seven, eight guys on your roster. You’re bringing in half a team that is still searching to develop a relationship with other players.
“We think if we have some key players that have understanding of what we’re doing, it will make it a lot easier. But you’re right. We do want continuity. We hope to get to that point.”