Knicks Shouldn’t Rush To Trade Joakim Noah

Knicks fans are exciting by the prospect of a Noah trade

News broke last week that Joakim Noah was leaving the New York Knicks for two games due to “personal reasons.” Noah has yet to return to the team and will likely miss the next two games as well.

Needless to say, Knicks fans rejoiced upon seeing this:

With that said, the Knicks shouldn’t do anything rash. Stretching, waiving or trading Noah’s contract right now would be a huge mistake for the future of the franchise.

Before we get into that, let’s see how we got to this situation and who is to blame.

The easiest target is Jeff Hornacek. We’ve seen articles published about the lack of playing time for Mindauguas Kuzminskas, Enes Kanter, Willy Hernangomez, Ramon Sessions and now Noah. After all, Hornacek’s the one who, presumably, makes the call on managing minutes. Not to mention Hornacek butted heads with Carmelo Anthony last season and lost the locker room as head coach of the Phoenix Suns as well.

Yet Hornacek isn’t the problem. Well, not the main problem at least. That’s not to say he isn’t responsible for other issues the team is dealing with like minutes distribution, play calling and rotations, but he should not be the reason why said players have been angry. Not every player is going to get impactful minutes, and when the disgruntled ones are approached by the New York Post’s Marc Berman, they’re candid. Not brutally so, but enough that any quote fits a specific narrative and, voilà, controversy, drama and clickbait.

It shouldn’t be Noah’s fault, either. He signed a contract that was given to him. He’s a competitor and he has every right to be angry with his lack of playing time. He messed up by being suspended for performance-enhancing drugs but he served his time. Playing Noah more would at least give him the chance to raise his trade value from zero, even if it’s marginal. It also takes away any development time at the center, though the Knicks haven’t exactly been developing any big men except for Kristaps Porzingis.

So who’s to blame in this particular situation? The answer is the old front office. Former president Phil Jackson made the peculiar decision to build around Carmelo Anthony with veteran players despite the fact that Jackson wanted Anthony gone. Steve Mills, meanwhile, was the one in charge of day-to-day decisions and drawing up contracts.

Jackson did do a great job of leaving a formidable, young core in place for the Knicks. The biggest issue though was that Jackson had a team comprised mostly of key players on the wrong side of 30 (Anthony, Noah and Courtney Lee) as well as free agent Derrick Rose (whose body is basically that of someone over 30 and whom Jackson allegedly wanted to re-sign) and future pieces under the age of 22 (Porzingis, Hernangomez and Frank Ntilikina). It’s like putting one foot on the gas pedal while putting the other foot on the brake: you’re really not going anywhere.

It’s hard to imagine this is what the team would have looked like if Mills and Scott Perry were in charge a season earlier. Mills and Perry have stressed their desire for “youth”; Noah is the antithesis of that word.

If Noah wants to play (which he does), is desperate to prove himself (which he is) and feels he can get more playing time elsewhere (which he can), there’s a very easy solution: a buyout.

The Knicks have already accepted that Noah’s contract is essentially dead money. If anything, Noah’s the one who has more of an incentive to make a change. The almost 33-year old big man hasn’t played more than 70 games in a season since 2013–14 and his career is coming to a close.

If you’re Noah, what’s more important to you: more money, less playing time in New York and becoming a free agent at 35, or less money and more playing time elsewhere? The answer seems obvious, especially considering Noah will have made $94,765,000 over the last seven seasons including this one, and his father has an estimated net worth of $10 million as well. Money shouldn’t be the primary motivator for a player who seems to just wants the chance to play. At the end of the day though, it’s his decision.

Parting with assets to trade Noah isn’t worth it for New York. The Knicks are at least three years away from being a potential contender, which would be after Noah’s contract expires. Besides, New York can afford near-max cap space in summer 2019 if they renounce the cap holds for Kanter and Ron Baker (assuming both opt in next year) and non-guarantee Lance Thomas’ contract. Noah is the difference between the Knicks acquiring another starting-caliber player and not, but another quality player could be around for a similar price in 2020 too, once Noah’s contract expires.

The stretch provision wouldn’t make sense for New York either. There’s no way around it: the team screwed up by giving Noah this contract. If the Knicks stretch Noah’s contract after this season, they’ll be paying him $7,565,000 through the 2022–23 season. Why should the Knicks turn a four-year mistake into a nine-year mistake? Don’t pick the scab and have it scar; let it heal on its own instead.

Waiving Noah for the sake of releasing him and taking the full cap hit makes little sense. Noah may be upset but the team shouldn’t waive him for the sake of waiving him. If Noah wants out so badly, he can agree to the Knicks’ terms of sacrificing something.

If the Knicks don’t do anything with Noah for another 18 months, his contract becomes oddly attractive in summer 2019, when it’s an expiring deal. There will be several teams looking to gain Noah’s $19,295,000 in cap space the following season plus get some sort of asset for taking on the deal. What’s more is that, while it seems farfetched right now, the Knicks probably wouldn’t have to give up a first round pick to dump Noah in 2019. Think about why a team like the Los Angeles Lakers this year would want an expiring deal in 2019, especially when the salary cap smooths out from the massive increase that occurred in summer 2016.

Perhaps if the Knicks sell at the deadline and focus exclusively on development over making the playoffs for the remainder of the season, Noah says “I don’t want to waste another year of my career being on a lottery team. I’m willing to sacrifice some money for a chance to play meaningful basketball again.” After all, New York has already stripped Noah of any significant playing time this year. He’d be able to sign with a contender for the veteran’s minimum (therefore making more money) and could be a free agent this summer (and eligible to make more money).

In the meantime, Noah is under contract and is a Knick. New York shouldn’t feel pressured to give in to any of Noah’s potential demands. If the front office has already accepted waiting out Noah’s deal, anything that benefits the team like a buyout would be gravy.