ORLANDO — Joakim Noah may never suit up again for the Knicks, but the exiled center will have plenty of desirable options should he negotiate a buyout with the club.
According to league sources, several playoff-bound teams are closely monitoring Noah’s situation in New York and would push to sign him if Noah becomes a free agent.
The Warriors, Timberwolves and Thunder are three such teams that believe Noah, who turns 33 on Sunday, could bolster their respective rosters for the postseason.
Minnesota is an obvious one since it would reunite Noah with his former coach with the Chicago Bulls, Tom Thibodeau. Golden State and Oklahoma City also feel that Noah’s experience and defensive prowess would solidify their respective benches.
Noah remains in limbo following an altercation with Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek last month in Denver. As the Daily News reported in January, the problem began one night earlier in Oakland when Noah played just five minutes, all in the fourth quarter, during a 123-112 loss to the Warriors.
The Knicks coaching staff had informed Noah hours before the game to be prepared to play since both Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle O’Quinn were unavailable due to injury. Despite the advance warning, Noah stayed on the bench until 10:09 was left to play.
But what really angered the highly competitive and prideful veteran is that Hornacek lifted him with 5:38 remaining. An agitated Noah, who had not complained publicly about his diminished role, then had words with Hornacek as he returned to the bench.
A day later and with emotions still raw, Hornacek, who isn’t about to back down when challenged, had words with Noah during a practice at the Pepsi Center in Denver, resulting in Hornacek pushing Noah and Noah shoving him back. The two were separated and the Knicks ultimately decided to send Noah home.
The club’s peculiar public position has been that Noah left the team for “personal reasons.” Noah hasn’t addressed his status publicly since leaving. He has, however, contacted a number of friends in the league and has made it clear that he’s eager to play.
The Knicks clearly have no use for Noah considering that he hasn’t been asked to return to the team despite the season-ending knee injury to Porzingis and the subsequent trade of Willy Hernangomez to Charlotte.
For Noah to gain his freedom this season, the Knicks would either have to release Noah or agree to a buyout. The latter is complicated by Noah being scheduled to earn $ 54 million through the 2019-20 season.
Last June, former Knicks president Phil Jackson was willing to negotiate a buyout on the final year of Carmelo Anthony’s contract, but Garden Chairman James Dolan refused to sign off on a potential deal. Instead, Dolan fired Jackson and three months later the new team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry traded Anthony to Oklahoma City for Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott.
If Dolan was unwilling to negotiate a buyout with Anthony, it’s hard to see him agreeing to a deal with Noah unless Noah is willing to forfeit a substantial amount of money. From all indications, Noah is reluctant to give the Knicks a discount.
Time is also a factor. Noah would have to be waived by March 1st in order to be eligible for the playoffs.
The Knicks have gone to great lengths to sweep the incident under the rug, first by calling Noah’s absence “personal reasons” and by refusing to comment on the shoving match, which was first reported by the Daily News.
There may be several reasons why the Knicks have been less than forthcoming. The obvious one is that Mills and Perry are protecting both Hornacek and Noah.
Also, the new front office, in an attempt to distance themselves from the dysfunctional environment that has existed at the Garden for nearly two decades and was exacerbated under Jackson, want to give the impression that they are in control and that the circus is no longer in town.
So Mills and Perry remain silent on the issue while Noah remains in exile, cashing checks and wondering when he’ll play again.