The soft power of the San Antonio Spurs

Apr 10, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich talks to his team during the first half against the Golden State Warriors at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 10, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich talks to his team during the first half against the Golden State Warriors at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports /

The market for free agent centers is starting to develop, and the New York Knicks have made a powerful statement.

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The Wizards were reportedly going to offer Joakim Noah a max contract starting at $26.6 million before signing with New York Knicks reuniting him with Derrick Rose.

After nine seasons in Chicago, Noah comes home to New York, bringing with him a highly decorated playing career, highlighted by winning the 2014 NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, while finishing fourth in the Most Valuable Player voting. At 6-foot-11, 230-pounds, the center appeared in two consecutive NBA All-Star Games (2013, 2014), was named to the All-NBA First Team (2014) and three NBA All-Defensive Teams (2011-second, 2013-first, 2014-first) and garnered the 2015 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award.

Noah has averaged 9.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.40 blocks in the regular season, and has appeared in 60 NBA Playoff games to average 9.7 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.77 blocks. He has recorded at least 250 assists in three consecutive seasons (2012-13 through 2014-15), becoming just the third center in the last 20 years to accomplish the feat (Vlade Divac, Hakeem Olajuwon).

Noah has recorded seven career triple-doubles, including four during the 2013-14 season, joining the ranks of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and David Robinson as the only centers in league history with at least four point-rebound-assist triple-doubles in a single season.

Noah has been a great player player in the league for a long time, but it is very telling that a guy who is going to turn 32 next season and only played in 29 games last season due to injury has been deemed worthy of a max contract.

Granted Noah is just two years removed from winning Defensive Player of the Year, the fact that a guy with numerous red flags easily gets a max contract is perhaps indicative of the money that is going to be thrown at free agents with the rising salary cap.

Noah is one of the best interior defenders in basketball, but in his eight non-lockout shortened seasons, he has only played in at least 70 games just three out of those eight seasons.

He is extremely valuable while on the court, but the real takeaway from this news is that centers with huge red flags regarding injuries, age, and offensive limitations can still get over $26 million from a team.

Somewhere guys like Bismack Biyombo and Al

Nov 30, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah (13) dribbles the ball against the San Antonio Spurs during the second half at the United Center. The Bulls defeat the Spurs 92-89. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Jefferson are celebrating. Hassan Whiteside and Al Horford’s big money potentials were never in question, but this Noah deal is a great sign for centers who’ve put up lofty numbers but struggled with injuries or a lack of multi-faceted skill sets (Jefferson) or guys with great defensive impact but not much offense (Biyombo).

Biyombo is about to turn 24, its likely that a team is going to invest in his potential to continue his ascension as an elite interior defender, rebounder, and shot blocker.

In terms of the San Antonio Spurs possible pursuit of a marquee center, not going after Noah or any other free agent center may or may not hurt the Spurs. They did happen to sign Pau Gasol, whom in his own right is a good player, but lacks on the defensive, an area Noah’s skills would be needed.

In international relations, a country has two types of power: hard power and soft power. Hard power is tangible resources to coerce other actors. For a team in NBA free agency, that’s money.

Soft power is intangible resources, such as cultural influence and the ability to persuade through lifestyle. For example, the U.S. has a lot of soft power involving its pop culture and freedom of expression.

In NBA free agency, a team’s soft power is the reputation of its franchise, and the atmosphere that coaches, executives, and players cultivate around the team that makes for a positive environment.

The Spurs have long been praised as a model organization, and this is the soft power that they possess within free agency.

They can use this soft power to attract players, many of whom will gladly forfeit earning potential in order to play in a fun setting and win basketball games.

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The Spurs have relied on soft power for years, and it will continue to be a key asset for them as they chase key free agent acquisitions.