New York Knicks Joakim Noah
(Photo by Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images)

Joakim Noah’s tumultuous tenure with the New York Knicks is close to an end. The front office has sent fans a clear message: 2019 or bust.

Portrait of a man, an ancient warrior whose best days are far behind him, Joakim Noah once wanted to be “an animal” for this city yet now has been all but neutered, which leaves the New York Knicks looking for an exit strategy from his massive contract.

Last week, Ian Begley of ESPN reported that the Knicks are eyeing Sept. 1 as the date to utilize the stretch provision and waive Noah.

The stretch provision will be the first domino to fall, making the summer of 2019 one of the most important in the franchise’s history.

The front office of Steve Mills and Scott Perry are positioning themselves to be major players in free agency for both 2019 and 2020. However, Noah’s unceremonious exit from the team will make this goal far more difficult.

Let’s discuss the reasons why.

Dollars and Cents

The current Knicks roster is over the salary cap for the 2018-2019 season by a little over $8 million. However, per Spotrac, going into the summer of 2019, a total of eight players including the likes of Enes Kanter, Trey Burke, and Kristaps Porzingis will be entering free agency. KP will likely receive a qualifying offer making him a restricted free agent unless an extension is signed.

If the Knicks use the stretch provision, Noah will be paid his entire salary for the 2018-2019 season, which is roughly $18.5 million. Yet, his remaining salary will be equally divided into $6.4 million over the next three seasons.

Per Tommy Beer of Forbes, an ending to the Noah-Knicks marriage can provide cap relief for the summer of 2019.

“However, his cap number would drop from $19.3 million to $6.4 million for the 2019-20 campaign, which would increase the Knicks cap space next summer by $12.9 million. The trade-off for New York is that the Knicks would forfeit $6.4 million in cap space each of the following two seasons.”

Beer also writes that the Knicks would be wise to wait until next July to stretch Noah’s contract. The Knicks could attempt to find a trade partner during this upcoming season instead of sacrificing future cap space.

On the other hand, the Knicks brass may be worried about the optics of Noah on the bench and him being around young players while head coach David Fizdale is trying to build a new culture.

Porzingis' Future

Considering the uncertainty of Porzingis’ timetable for a return to the basketball court, Noah’s stretch/waiving may dovetail nicely with a potential extension for the Unicorn.

It seems quite unlikely, even with KP’s injury, that the Knicks would let him become an unrestricted free agent. In a separate article, Beer, explains with detail, the fine print on the timing of a KP extension and the effect it could have on the salary cap combined with the stretch provision of Noah’s contract.

Beer writes:

“If they hold off on a Porzingis extension, they would be looking at north of $22 million in cap space. At that point, they could use the stretch provision on the final year of Joakim Noah’s contract, which would decrease his 2019-20 cap hit from $19.3 million to $6.4 million, effectively creating an additional $12.8 million. The Knicks would then be able to enter July of 2019 with $35 million in cap space, enough to extend a max contract to a top-tier free agent.”

As previously reported, the free-agent class of 2019 boasts some pretty impressive names like Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler and DeMarcus Cousins. And with $35 million in cap space, the Knicks could certainly be an attractive destination.

Bottom Line

If the Knicks go forward with a core of Porzingis, (insert max player here), Tim Hardaway Jr., Kevin Knox, and Frank Ntilikina plus other players that’s roughly $90 million in salary. And that’s being conservative.
The projected salary cap for the 2020-2021 season is estimated to be $116 million, making it very unlikely that the Knicks will be able to add another max player unless they can trade Hardaway Jr.’s contract.

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Now while it may seem easy to forecast Hardaway Jr.’s contract as an attractive trade chip on an expiring deal, consider the market over the past several offseasons.
Mark Deeks of NBA.com wrote about the diminishing value of expiring contracts. Since the salary cap has grown post-2011 collective bargaining agreement, team’s have more flexibility and don’t have as much need for expiring contracts.
Regardless, stretching Noah’s contract gives the Knicks a little cap relief for the summer of 2019. The front office will look to prioritize the 2019 free-agent class in order to find another star to pair with Porzingis.
In a weird way, Noah’s contract may be remembered as the last obstacle before a golden era of Knicks basketball.

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