Joakim Noah


Schmeelk: Using Stretch Provision To Ax Noah Would Be Bad Business

Knicks Must Stay Flexible With Eye On 2020 Free Agency

October 08, 2018 - 10:28 am

The Knicks have two goals this season. The first, obviously, is developing their young players and winning as many games as they can. The second is preparing the franchise to be in the best possible situation to add top-quality players via trade or free agency in the future to improve their roster.

The important fact that the Knicks' front office needs to keep in mind is that the future is not just all about the summer of 2019. It would be ideal for the Knicks to add an All-NBA level talent with free-agent dollars this summer before Kristaps Porzingis gets his max extension and his cap number jumps by more than $10 million, but it is not essential.

As the days go by counting down to the start of the NBA regular season, potential 2019 free agents are hinting at exactly what they might be doing next summer. Jimmy Butler is looking for a trade and a subsequent extension that would remove him from the 2019 crop. Kyrie Irving has sent a lot of signals he intends to stay with the Celtics next summer, which would remove him from any free=agent plans. Karl-Anthony Towns has signed his extension and is not in play.

It leaves only a trio of players who might be available and are worth the Knicks spending a maximum salary slot on: Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. There’s no guarantee any of those three players will choose to join the Knicks in the summer of 2019.

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If that happens, the worst things the Knicks can do is repeat the mistake they made in the summer of 2010, when they turned to Amar’e Stoudemire and lavished a max deal on him despite long-term concerns about his knees. Players such as Khris Middleton, Kemba Walker, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, DeAndre Jordan and Marc Gasol could be available, but none are worth the investment of a maximum deal, or anything close to it.

The Knicks would be far better off waiting until 2020 and maintaining their cap room to add the right player (a true star) and keeping their cap flexible enough to entertain any potential trades that might become possible. Patience has been a buzzword for the Knicks, and it will be tested if this scenario comes to pass.

So why is any of this relevant now? Joakim Noah is still a member of the Knicks despite that he hasn’t been with the team at training camp. It’s fairly clear he doesn’t want to be with the Knicks this season, and the Knicks don’t necessarily want him, either.

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A divorce is coming, but the financials of it are what have the two sides at a stalemate. The Knicks can either stretch the final year of Noah’s contract over three seasons -- turning his $19 million hit in the 2019-20 season into cap hits of just over $6 million over three seasons from 2019-22 -- or buy him out.

A buyout would leave Noah’s full cap hit over the next two seasons, unless he would be willing to give back some money, which is likely the holdup in his release. Regardless of whether Noah gives up any money, the thinning out of the 2019 free-agent class should make the idea of stretching Noah a nonstarter.

At this point, there’s just as strong a chance the Knicks will need cap space in the summer of 2020 as there is they’ll need it in 2019. Stretching Noah, while saving $12 million of space in 2019 that might not be spent, could cost them more than $6 million of space in 2020. There is no reason to waste potential 2020 space without knowing the cap room gained in the summer of 2019 could help land a top player.

A far more attractive scenario would be a buyout with Noah giving back enough money to allow the Knicks to afford a max contract next summer. Even if Noah’s buyout couldn’t get the Knicks all the way there, it could get them close enough to make getting there easy. It would also mean that all his money would be off the books in the summer of 2020. Whether Noah is willing to do that remains to be seen, but the Knicks front office should try.

It is not 2019 or bust for the Knicks, and the front office shouldn’t treat it that way, either. Handling Noah’s contract the right way can pave the way not only for a run at free agency in 2019, but also in 2020. At this point, flexibility is the most important focus the Knicks' front office should have. Ideally, that means Noah remains on the roster, but that seems unrealistic.

Using the flex provision would put dead money on the cap for two additional years with no way of jettisoning it, which is the opposite of flexibility. It should remain the Knicks' last resort when dealing with Noah.

You can follow John on Twitter for everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports at @Schmeelk.