Joakim Noah

Trading young star like Kristaps Porzingis such a Knicks move

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As Knicks president, Phil Jackson built teams that went 17-65, 32-50 and 31-51. Jackson gave Joakim Noah a huge contract. Jackson offended the NBA’s best player, LeBron James, shortly before LeBron changed teams in free agency. Jackson reportedly floored multiple free agents with his unpreparedness in meetings, couldn’t get his computer to work during pitches, became unreachable to rival general managers even shortly before the trade deadline and fell asleep during a pre-draft workout.

But Jackson also drafted Kristaps Porzingis.

Whatever deserved criticism Jackson faced for his calamitous New York tenure was always weighed against that single wonderful transaction. That’s how good Porzingis was.

The 7-foot-3 big man wowed early with his putback dunks. With an excellent shooting stroke and mobility, he blossomed even further. His rim protecting made him a true two-way player. He even made the All-Star game last season, just his third year in the NBA.

Porzingis was the type of franchise player most teams only dream about. He was a young star in a league that gives teams plenty of contractual control over such players. When teams find a gem like that, they almost always hang on as tightly as they can. Remember, Knicks owner James Dolan fired Jackson, despite just opting into the final two years of Jackson’s contract, only once Jackson made such a big deal about shopping Porzingis.

But in a shocking turn, New York traded Porzingis to the Mavericks yesterday. It was just the fifth time since the NBA-ABA merger someone made an All-Star team then got traded within his first four seasons. The five:

  • Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks to Mavericks in 2019)
  • Jason Kidd (Mavericks to Suns in 1996)
  • Alonzo Mourning (Hornets to Heat in 1995)
  • Mike Mitchell (Cavaliers to Spurs in 1981)
  • Billy Knight (Pacers to Buffalo Braves in 1977)

At 23.5-years-old, Porzingis is the second-youngest established All-Star to change teams. The only one younger: Jrue Holiday, who was 23-years-and-1-month-old when traded from the 76ers to the Pelicans after his fourth season in 2013.

But as shocking as a deal like this is, it’s far less surprising New York was the team to make it.

Charlie Ward, who was drafted in 1994, was the last player to spend his first six seasons with the Knicks. Since, only David Lee (drafted in 2005) made it even his first five full seasons with New York. If not even Porzingis gets a multi-year contract after his rookie-scale deal, which Knick ever will?

New York just hasn’t shown sustained interest/ability in identifying, developing and retaining young talent. Even though that was Knicks president Steve Mills’ explicit plan only a year-and-a-half ago, he has already pivoted in a new direction. That’s how it goes in James Dolan’s franchise. Over and over and over.

It isn’t necessarily a mistake this time, though.

New York got a haul for Porzingis. The Knicks unloaded Tim Hardaway Jr.‘s and Courtney Lee‘s onerous contracts (opening a projected $73 million in cap space next summer) and got two future first-round picks (one guaranteed to be in the first round and one likely to convey), Dennis Smith Jr. (a promising young player) and DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews (productive veterans who could be flipped before the trade deadline).

The big question is what the Knicks do with all that cap space. They’ve chased quick fixes and failed many times under Dolan. But if they land Kevin Durant and/or Kyrie Irving this summer, the trade will have been a home run. If New York misses on star free agents, the trade looks far more ominous. Presumably, the Knicks have a better idea than I do about impending free agents’ interest. Cap room goes further in a market like New York. This risk makes more sense for the Knicks than it would most teams.

Either way, it’s not as if keeping Porzingis was a foolproof plan. He remains out while recovering from a torn ACL, a major injury – especially for someone so big. He has had multiple other injuries in his short career and shown signs of frailty.

Maybe, as he gets older and stronger, he’ll be fine. Maybe he just needs a team that will put less stress on his body.

But the injury risk with Porzingis appears real.

That was particularly concerning with him entering restricted free agency this summer. He could easily draw a max offer sheet projected to be worth $117 million over four years. Or worse, he could sign a qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent in 2020.

Teams should trade young stars more often. Sometimes, a player’s value peaks early in his career. That could be the time to sell high.

But it’s difficult to tell when those cases are occurring. Amid uncertainty, NBA teams usually avoid risk.

If they kept Porzingis and his career stagnated due to injury or other reasons, the Knicks would largely get a pass. But if he flourishes in Dallas, New York will get shredded. Teams – unfairly, though understandably due to a lack of public information – are held accountable for the moves they make, not they moves they don’t make.

The Knicks are showing plenty of courage with this trade, but they’ve never been afraid to take big swings before. They’ve just usually struck out.

At least this was a pitch over the plate.

New York had to do something risky with Porzingis. Trading him for this return – as rare as it is to deal a player like him – seems reasonable. At least if the Knicks have an edge on top free agents next summer.

Report: After Jimmy Butler’s ‘disrespectful’ interaction with Brett Brown, concern about Butler’s future in Philadelphia

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Jimmy Butler joined the 76ers trying to repair his reputation after his Timberwolves tenure ended tumultuously.

This won’t help.

Upset with his role in the offense, Butler is reportedly challenging Philadelphia coach Brett Brown.

Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Butler has been vocal in his contesting of Brown and his system, including a recent film session in Portland that some witnesses considered “disrespectful” and beyond normal player-coach discourse.

Brown has told people within the organization that he had no issues with that exchange and considered it within the confines of the relationship that he’s developed with Butler, sources said.

Butler has expressed a desire to teammates that he hopes to play in more traditional pick-and-roll and isolation sets, rather than trying to find his place in the Sixers free-flowing offense, league sources said.

Butler’s sluggish assimilation into the Sixers environment is causing some concern about his long-term viability and fit with the organization, league sources said.

This set of facts isn’t terribly distressesful on its own. Many players struggle to adapt to a new system, especially one with as much high-end talent as the 76ers have. Talking with the coach and general management about it is a productive step. “Disrespectful” can be in the eye of the beholder, and the person supposedly disrespected is saying he didn’t feel that way.

But the fact that this has leaked should set off alarms. That means the problems have reached a certain level of significance.

The tricky part: It’s unclear who leaked this and why.

This could be the 76ers trying to warn Butler he’s going too far/depress demand for him in free agency next summer. This could be Butler sending a warning shot he is unhappy/might leave. This could be someone in the organization sympathetic to Brown or upset with Butler trying to protect the coach at Butler’s expense.

It could be some combination of those ideas or others.

What’s clearer: Butler hasn’t meshed seamlessly in Philadelphia. He hasn’t meshed seamlessly anywhere.

He had problems with teammates in Minnesota (most notably Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins) and Chicago (most notably Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah), but he has also clashed with all his NBA coaches – Fred Hoiberg of course, even Tom Thibodeau and now Brown. Butler doesn’t fear conflict. He invites it. That sometimes makes others uncomfortable.

Thibodeau appreciated it. Hoiberg didn’t. We’ll see how Brown responds.

Unlike Hoiberg but like Thibodeau, Brown has spent a lot of time coaching NBA players. I suspect Brown will accept Butler’s intensity during a film session as long as it stems from Butler’s desire to win and Butler maintains that intensity in games.

But can Brown adjust his offense to maximize Butler, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid? That’s no easy task. It wasn’t easy with just Simmons and Embiid, and Butler adds further complications. But this is the challenge of many contending teams – multiple stars used to dominating the ball adjusting to new roles. It doesn’t help that Embiid openly says he dislikes shooting 3-pointers, and Simmons is clearly even more averse to long-distance shots. That narrows Brown’s possible solutions.

Still, several months remain the season. There’s plenty of time for everyone to find a happy medium. The 76ers can still offer Butler the most money next summer, and they obviously acquired him intent on re-signing him.

It’s tough to tell whether this is just reasonable turbulence on a long flight together or early signs of a crash landing between Butler and Philadelphia. The former seems more likely, but the latter is terrifyingly possible.

Knicks stress patience, indulge impatient tendencies by stretching Joakim Noah

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry talked a big game about patiently rebuilding – practically a foreign concept in New York.

And most of the summer, they backed up their words.

They drafted Kevin Knox No. 9 and Mitchell Robinson No. 36. They didn’t sign a single free agent to a multi-year deal. They made no win-now trade (or any trade at all).

Yet, even in the Knicks’ most patient offseason in years, they closed it with an incredibly impatient move.

New York stretched Joakim Noah, locking in a cap hit of $18,530,000 this season and $6,431,667 each of the following three years. The move opens an additional $12,863,333 in cap space next summer.

But what if the Knicks don’t need that extra room? What if they don’t attract free agents worth spending that amount then? Eating Noah’s entire $19,295,000 2019-20 salary that season, rather than splitting it over three years, is off the table.

What if they need even more room? What if they can draw great free agents who command more money than New York can offer? Attaching sweeteners to trade Noah’s salary and remove it entirely is also now impossible.

The Knicks could have waited until next summer to stretch, straight waive or trade Noah. They would have had far more information then, as the stretch deadline is Aug. 31.

This move puts so much needless pressure on New York to use its cap space next summer. Though the Knicks’ reported top target, Kyrie Irving, already said he’d re-sign with the Celtics, Kevin Durant-New York rumors are swirling, and Jimmy Butler put the Knicks on his list. The Knicks project to have about $33 million in cap space next summer, including a cap hold for only Kristaps Porzingis. They could add a franchise-changing star.

But this doesn’t jibe with a patient rebuild.

Biding time until next summer, New York took fliers on Mario Hezonja (one year, $6.5 million) and Noah Vonleh (one year, minimum). But despite seemingly tepid markets for those two in free agency, the Knicks didn’t capitalize on their leverage by attaching any additional unguaranteed seasons to their contracts. That will make it extremely difficult to get value from them. If Hezonja or Vonleh break out, they’ll be in line for bigger deals next summer.

Of course, it’s more likely New York’s first-, not second-, draft players dictate the team’s future. For the first time in eight seasons, the Knicks will have three players simultaneously on rookie-scale contracts – Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and Knox. That most-modest benchmark is a major accomplishment in New York, where quick fixes have ruled the day.

After waiving Noah, it’s hard to see the Knicks as truly committed to a new, more prudent approach.

 

Offseason grade: C-

No discount, but Knicks finally buyout, waive Joakim Noah today anyway

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We knew how this was going to end. It was going to be as big a surprise as the ending of “First Man.” (Hint: The Americans make it to the moon, it wasn’t faked.)

Saturday it finally happened: The New York Knicks have waived and stretched the contract of Joakim Noah, the team announced Saturday. It’s the end of the disastrous four-year, $72.6 million contract that Phil Jackson signed Noah to, which ended up being an anchor on the Knicks rebuilding efforts. In the pantheon of horrible Summer of 2016 contracts — Timofey Mozgov, Luol Deng, so many others — Noah stood out as the worst, the biggest train wreck of them all.

The Knicks were hoping for a discount from Noah to get out of his contract (as Deng did, for example). However, with no NBA prospects out there (as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski among many others), Noah had no incentive to offer a break to the Knicks. So he didn’t.

Because of the timing of this waive and stretch (as the Knicks planned), Noah will get his full $18.5 million for this season, it is his final season of $19.3 million that will be stretched out over the next three years. Bobby Marks of ESPN broke it down:

New York will incur an $18.5M cap hit in 2018-19 that will be reduced by $522,252 if the center signs a 1 year $2.4M (minimum exception) guaranteed contract with a new team. For the next 3 seasons (2019-20 to 2021-22), New York will be charged $6.4M on the $19.3M amount owed to Noah. If the Knicks do not give Kristaps Porzingis a max rookie extension by Oct.15, New York projects to have $31M in room next summer. The room will increase to $38M if Lance Thomas is waived.

That’s enough cap room to chase a max salary player such as Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving (not that they are coming to NYC, relax people, they are merely free agent max players next summer used as an example). There was some thought the Knicks would hold off and use him as salary ballast in a trade (or maybe another team would want him, so he would take a buyout discount), but the contract was unmovable, so they just decided to bite the bullet now.

Noah is now an unrestricted free agent.

However, there is little to no traction for him with other NBA teams. Noah has battled injuries and played in just 53 games over two seasons with the Knicks, and when he has gotten on the court he has looked like a shell of the former Defensive Player of the Year. Father time has won the race. Maybe midseason a team takes a flier on Noah, but I wouldn’t bet on it (teams taking a flier on a big usually prefer a younger player they might develop into a long-term player for them).

League sends out updated salary cap projections, jump coming in future years

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The past two seasons, the free agency market has been tight. Following the drunken-level spending spree of 2016 — the year that gave us the Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and so many more anchor contracts — teams were cautious and out of money.

That’s about to change, because the salary cap is about to jump next summer, and some of those terrible contracts are starting to come off the books. This week the NBA updated its salary cap projections to teams, and Shams Charania of The Vertical got ahold of the memo.

For comparison, the cap is at $101.9 million, with the luxury tax is at $123.7 million.

With nearly half the players in the NBA as free agents next summer — did you notice all the one-year contracts this summer? — and the jump in cap space, about 20 of the NBA’s 30 teams could have cap space for a max player. Next summer is going to be wild.