July 08, 2016

GREENBURGH, N.Y. (AP) When the New York Knicks decided they wanted to build a more competitive team, Joakim Noah couldn't wait to sign on.

He remembers watching plenty of games at Madison Square Garden and knows better than most what it means to have winning basketball in the city where he was born.

So he committed quickly when he became a free agent, and signed his contract Friday as the centerpiece of what the Knicks hope can be a contender.

''This means everything to me, and I'm going to do everything to make this special,'' Noah said.

The Knicks also signed veteran guards Brandon Jennings and Courtney Lee, along with rookie big men Marshall Plumlee and Guillermo ''Willy'' Hernangomez, and re-signed forward Lance Thomas. Add in Derrick Rose, Noah's former Chicago teammate who was acquired via trade last month, and the Knicks believe they can turn a 50-loss team into a playoff one.

''We like this team,'' Knicks President Phil Jackson said.

The Knicks missed the postseason during Jackson's first two full seasons in charge, but have been busy this summer in hopes of a turnaround. Jeff Hornacek was hired as coach, and a number of what Jackson called ''forceful'' players were brought in after a postseason conversation with All-Star Carmelo Anthony, who was eager to speed up the process after sitting out the playoffs for the first three times in his career.

''We decided to activate ourselves a little bit quicker,'' Jackson said.

The Knicks made a number of moves last summer, but after a decent start tumbled to a 32-50 finish. General manager Steve Mills said the team felt it needed more starting-caliber NBA players to surround Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis, who was runner-up for Rookie of the Year.

They started with Noah, the former Defensive Player of the Year whose leadership skills Jackson has long admired. The versatile center got a four-year contract, as did Lee, the shooting guard who helped Charlotte win 48 games last season and said he had other teams interested.

''I just felt like the team was moving in the right direction because you already have Melo and you already have KP here, so that's a strong core group right there, and I just felt joining this team would only increase my chances of competing in the Eastern Conference and trying to win a ring,'' Lee said.

Jennings got a one-year deal and is the only one of the three veterans introduced Friday who isn't expected to start.

''When I talked to Phil, he said he expected me to be Sixth Man of the Year,'' Jennings said. ''So I'm definitely going to embrace that role. I don't see why I can't be in that conversation.''

Jackson acknowledged the risks in relying on players who have battled injuries. Rose's knee troubles have been well-documented, and Noah made it through just 29 games last season because of a left shoulder injury. Jennings said he's 100 percent now after returning in the middle of last season from an Achilles tendon injury that cost him a season.

''It's a risk-reward situation. We're aware of this,'' Jackson said. ''We think the reward is going to be great.''

So does Noah, who was born in New York and attended high school there. His mother, former Miss Sweden Cecilia Rodhe, still lives in Brooklyn after her divorce from French tennis star Yannick Noah. His sister lives in the city, too, so this feels like a homecoming in some ways.

He said it was hard to leave after nine years in Chicago, where Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said his impact can't be measured.

''He is loved by all in our organization and he will always be a Bull,'' Reinsdorf said.

Now he's a Knick.

''Sometimes it's just time to move on,'' Noah said. ''When this situation opened up, I knew right away that this was where I wanted to be.''

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Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney

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