Like many people around the NBA, I went a little crazy in 2016. There was a massive spike in the salary cap from the league's TV deal that led to teams being flushed with cash. Just like when you were a kid and your grandparents gave you $100 for your birthday, and the gift would come with a caution to spend the money wisely. Sadly, when the Knicks got this monetary present, they couldn't help themselves.
It's fresh in my mind because it was less than five years ago, but my most memorable Knicks' free agent moment was the summer of 2016 and most notably, the signing of Joakim Noah to a four-year $72 million deal. This was touted as a big move by the Knicks, but it led to a lot of people scratching their heads. Noah was a former MVP candidate, but he had struggled with his health and was not the same player he once was. The big man was clearly on the decline, averaging 4.3 points per game and shooting 38% from the field in his last season in Chicago. CBS Sports had him ranked as the 39th best free agent in the class. He made the 14th most money out of anyone that summer.
Phil Jackson claimed Noah would bring hard-nosed defense and fiery competitiveness to the Knicks' roster, but for a center over 30, why pay for past production? Needless to say, Noah was an abomination in New York. The Knicks also didn't think that the cap wouldn't keep jumping at a massive rate and eventually had to stretch him. During the star-studded free agency of 2021, the Knicks will have more than $6 million on the books for Joakim Noah.
While Noah was the biggest blunder of this summer, he wasn't the only questionable move. The Knicks also traded for former MVP Derrick Rose, following the theme of acquiring players based solely on how they played a few years ago. Rose was never the same after his ACL tear in 2012, as his scoring, shooting, and assist numbers all took a considerable dip (not to mention his athleticism). While the Knicks didn't give up a ton to pull Rose from Chicago, the point guard would join with Carmelo Anthony in taking valuable touches away from the Knicks' true star of the future: Kristaps Porzingis.
The NBA was fully embracing the three-point evolution at the time. The Knicks' two big acquisitions were a guard who just shot 29% from three and had never shot above 34% from deep in his career, and a center who was 0 for 14 from beyond the arc during his time in the NBA. At least the Knicks also signed Courtney Lee, a proven three-point marksman. While I still think the deal made sense, Lee's contract was eventually considered an albatross and attached in the Porzingis deal so the Knicks could clear cap space (for nothing). Even when the Knicks seem to get it right, it goes wrong.
The reason I remember this free agency so clearly is because of how the offseason was received by friends and Knicks fans on social media. Everyone was convinced the Knicks were now a surefire playoff team. Noah was going to change the culture. Rose would return to form. Combine those with Melo and KP, and the Knicks are right back where they were when they finished second in the East a few years prior. I couldn't have disagreed with this sentiment more. The Knicks were doing what they always did by paying for past performance, not projecting how players would play when they actually get to the Garden, prioritizing names over production, and not joining the modern NBA game style. I knew this was doomed from the get-go.
The Knicks finished 31-51, one game worse than the year prior. Rose went AWOL. Noah barely played half the season and showed he didn't want to be in New York. It didn't feel good to be right.
Since then, the Knicks have learned some, but not all of their lessons. They only made short-term deals last summer, but they couldn't sign anyone capable of truly improving their team. After a few years of that birthday gift from your grandparents, maybe you finally put the money away or use it on a sensible purchase, but it took some time to learn that. The same is true for the Knicks—even when they seem to be getting it right, it takes time for them to totally get it. Hopefully Leon Rose and company know better so fans don't have to suffer a summer like 2016 again for a long time.