How the Knicks can navigate Joakim Noah’s albatross contract

Joakim Noah‘s future with the New York Knicks is uncertain, to say the least. Noah has been away from the team since Thursday because of what sources describe as a lengthy disconnect between Noah and Knicks coaches, including head coach Jeff Hornacek.

At this point, it is unclear when or if Noah will return to the team. All we know is that the former Defensive Player of the Year isn’t expected to be with the Knicks on Tuesday when they play the Brooklyn Nets at Madison Square Garden.

So where do things go from here? We took a look at the Knicks’ options:

Trade: Noah is owed roughly $56 million in the final three years of his contract. He is also 32 years old and averaging 1.7 points and 2.0 rebounds in 5.7 minutes per game this season. In other words, Noah’s contract is virtually untradeable. Unless New York wants to add a player like Kristaps Porzingis or future first-round picks in a deal (they don’t), it’s hard to see any team taking back Noah and his $17.7 million 2018-19 salary.

The Knicks have talked to teams about trades involving Noah several times in the past few months — including in trade talks surrounding Porzingis last spring and summer — but they didn’t find a team open to acquiring Noah.

Waive via the stretch provision: The Knicks can waive Noah and decrease the cap hit they’ll incur for Noah’s contract over the next two summers via the stretch provision, but using this tool on Noah isn’t ideal. It would reduce his cap hit to $7,565,000 over the next five years, beginning in 2018-19 and ending in 2022-23. Noah is scheduled to make $18.5 million in 2018-19 and $19.3 million in the final year of his contract.

While stretching Noah would give the Knicks some more money to spend in the next two summers, it would also eat into their cap space when they hope to use that space to attract free agents. The cap relief this summer would also be a nonfactor unless the club sheds significant salary that’s already guaranteed for next season or if Enes Kanter opts out of his $18.6 million player option for 2018-19.

New York could also retain Noah and look to move him this summer when he has only two years left on his contract or waive and stretch in the summer of 2019 when he only has one year left on his contract. Instead of having a five-year cap hit if Noah was waived now or in July, New York would have a $6,431,667 hit for 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22. Stretching only his final season would see a lower cap hit and also have no salary obligation for the 2022-23 season.

Buyout: Noah would have to be willing to sacrifice a portion of what he’s owed between this season and the final two years of his contract. Sources told ESPN that Noah has no inclination to give up a significant amount of guaranteed money in a potential buyout.

Unless Noah changes his mind, this would be a roadblock to any buyout agreement between the veteran center and the Knicks. Such an agreement wouldn’t change the cap hit the Knicks incur on the remaining years of Noah’s deal.

Waive: The Knicks could choose to waive Noah, though they’d likely attempt to negotiate a buyout before exploring this option. Waiving Noah wouldn’t change the hit on the Knicks’ books, but it would put an end to what, at the moment, is an uncomfortable relationship between the coaching staff and player.

Trade other centers: Opposing teams have expressed interest in centers Enes Kanter, Kyle O’Quinn and Willy Hernangomez ahead of the Feb. 8 trade deadline. Trading one of their four centers might give Noah a chance to play more, but that scenario seems unlikely. If either O’Quinn or Kanter is traded, the coaching staff would likely give Hernangomez the opportunity to take the departing center’s minutes, keeping Noah out of the regular rotation.

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