The Feb. 3 Garden rematch between the Knicks and Memphis is no longer about David Fizdale versus Marc Gasol. It’s been replaced by Fizdale versus Joakim Noah.
Gasol, who seemed to put his Fizdale feud behind him in the first Knicks-Memphis battle, and Noah should receive heavy Garden boos, especially Noah.
The ex-Knicks center officially signed his one-year, prorated $1.7 million deal with Memphis on Tuesday, then broke his silence. He had kept quiet since being banished by the Knicks for his practice run-in with former coach Jeff Hornacek last January in Denver.
Noah was told not to show up to training camp and was waived Oct. 13 as the Knicks used the stretch provision on the club’s worst free-agent signing in history (four years, $72 million). It appeared Fizdale, despite having multiple conversations with Noah, was on board with management’s belief that the former defensive player of the year would not be a good fit in a rebuilding program.
Knicks president Steve Mills was general manager when Noah was signed, but sources indicated Clarence Gaines Jr., team president Phil Jackson’s top adviser, pushed for the move.
When he faced the Memphis media Tuesday, Noah was not asked about the Hornacek fight or the events that led to his Knicks breakup when he got waived late in training camp after not reporting.
“I’m just really happy that I had a team that believed in me and gave me a shot,” Noah said, according to the Commercial Appeal. “It was a rough couple years in New York, so to be in this position right now, I’m not taking it for granted.”
Rough is an understatement as Noah, a Hell’s Kitchen native, suffered through multiple injuries, embarrassing free-throw shooting, a drug suspension and finally his altercation with Hornacek, who yanked him during garbage time versus the Warriors after he had played just a few minutes. Hornacek played him just seven games last season and Noah apparently thought the coach went out of his way to embarrass him in Golden State.
“It means a lot,’’ Noah said Tuesday. “I feel prepared, worked really hard to just have a chance. For Memphis to give me a shot I feel really blessed and fortunate to be back in the NBA. I want to be here for the guys and be a good influence.”
The Grizzlies are 13-9 and play an old-school “grit-and-grind’’ style that will suit Noah, who has never shot a 3-pointer in his career.
“There’s a lot of really good young talent, and it’s a culture that has been known for its work ethic and its grind,’’ Noah said. “And I pride myself on being one of those guys. So I just want to keep that culture going.”
Courtney Lee (neck) finally made his season debut Monday night, playing 15 minutes and scoring seven points. Eventually the Knicks hope to trade Lee, though it is point guard Frank Ntilikina who has received interest from a handful of teams, sources confirm.
The Garden’s Hannukah Night celebration served a good cause. The Knicks hosted a Pop-A-Shot Challenge prior to and during Monday’s game, starting at Chase Square, then continuing on the sixth floor concourse.
The top four winners will compete Dec. 21 for a trip to All-Star Weekend. All participants had to make a donation to benefit the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in the Squirrel Hill section of Pittsburgh in late October. The donations were given to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
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