Ball Don't Lie - NBA



Joakim Noah(notes) has agreed to a five-year, $60 million contract extension with the Chicago Bulls -- a deal with incentives that could push the contract up a few quid, perhaps around the realm of $65 million total. And count me in as one of the people who consider this one of the more reasonable things that has happened during a pretty nutty offseason.

For several factors. Justifying this deal for Chicago goes well beyond pointing out that Rudy Gay(notes) will make more per year over the course of his contract extension, or that this move allows Noah to play for about half of what the oft-injured Jermaine O'Neal(notes) worked under with his massive deal that expired last summer. Need, fit and position play the biggest roles in this move, and while that isn't what Bulls fans want to hear (though it's certainly what the deal's detractors will chortle at), this isn't a bad thing.

The Bulls need Noah badly, which is why the team never seriously entertained thoughts of moving him for Carmelo Anthony(notes) -- beyond the fact that they'd be giving up two younger starters for a guy who doesn't do much but pump fake and get 25-plus a game not all that efficiently.

The Bulls need Noah to work as an anchor of their defense, which, after spending all sorts of money on free-agent pickups and hirings during the offseason, will continue to be the thing that the team will have to hang its hat on. The Bulls still can't shoot, and they're going to have to go defense-first if they want to make it past the first round. Noah still has quite a bit of work to do when it comes to trying to find that delicate balance between all-out help defense and sticking with his man. He pulls it off, though, more often than not.

And that's before Noah even opens his mouth, because as anyone who's been remotely close to the action down low during Bulls games can tell you, the guy won't stop talking. In a good way. Pointing plays out, positioning teammates, letting everyone know where he is -- and then actually executing, when it comes time to be "where he is."

This is why he fits. Because as important as he was in Vinny Del Negro's pell-mell schemes over the last two seasons, he'll be significantly more important working under former Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau, known for his game tape-heavy ways and exacting defensive work behind the scenes. He'll be so vital to the success of this team in ways that can't be explained in rebounds, blocks, or even raw plus/minus.

Partially because of the fact that he is a true center, which is also the hardest position to fill adequately in this league. Which is why, yes, position plays a big part in Noah earning in upwards of $13 million a year if incentives are met.

Centers are hard to find. Finding one that doesn't feel like a stopgap pivot takes time and luck, and the Bulls lucked out when Minnesota went with Corey Brewer(notes) in the 2007 draft and the eventual-Thunder went with Jeff Green(notes). Picking up a 7-footer who would be averaging a double-double in just under 31 minutes per game by his third year? This is something you hang onto. Especially when you consider the defensive merits of Noah's game.

And, yes, in terms of raw numbers irrespective of worth, NBA centers are usually paid in U.S. dollars, while the rest of the league is paid in British Pounds. A darn good center will usually make 1.6 times the number of what a darn good small forward makes, because that's just a function of the scarcity (and, as is often the case in this league, the optimism in too many NBA GMs, thinking the best out of that 7-foot plodder that had three great weeks last April).

Joakim won't turn 25 until after this season's All-Star break, and he did hit the double-double mark in minutes per game (30.7) that usually don't result in a double-double. But big men don't usually turn into Kevin McHale in their mid-20s. Joakim will improve as he gains more confidence and more strength, but right now we're looking at Noah at about 80-85 percent of what he'll turn into in his prime. A double-double guy with great defense, but nothing much on the offensive end.

Is that worth well into eight figures a year? For the reasons listed above, I think so. Joakim's issues with plantar fasciitis are a major worry, because that stuff just does not go away. But this is still a center you can rely on to play smart and play hard and play talented for huge stretches of the season.

He's 24, and seems to be more than making up for that worrying off-court behavior (particularly the stuff you can be suspended for) with essential doses of locker-room know-how. It's been that way since his rookie year -- Ben Wallace(notes) and the old guard (say, the former Wake of the News columnist for the Chicago Tribune) were wrong, and Noah was right.

And heading into 2010-11, it's safe to say that this is the right move for all involved. Now things just need to continue apace, and Noah will prove why he's earned this extension.

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