How NBA Teams Can Trade League’s Worst Contracts

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New York Knicks Receive C Ian Mahinmi (2 years, $31.4 million), SG/SF Jodie Meeks, PG/SG/SF Austin Rivers*, PF/C Jason Smith

Washington Wizards Receive: PG Emmanuel Mudiay, C Joakim Noah (2 years, $37.8 million), SF/PF Lance Thomas

Joakim Noah isn’t going to be on the chopping block much longer.

New York plans to stretch-and-waive him in September because general manager Scott Perry “has been cautiously unwilling to include the necessary assets—a good young player, or a future first-round pick or picks—to make Noah’s contract palatable to another team,” according to ESPN.com’s Ian Begley and Adrian Wojnarowski.

Props to Perry and team president Steve Mills for not going “full Knicks” in this situation. Kevin Knox will be the most talented teammate Kevin Durant ever has, and Frank Ntilikina, Kristaps Porzingis and next year’s first-rounder should join him inside the “hands off” bubble.

Remove them from talks, and New York doesn’t have the sweeteners necessary to jettison Noah free and clear. That should not empower Perry and Mills to waive Noah. Stretching him will cost the team a hair over $6.4 million per year through 2021-22.

Punting on that much flexibility for three consecutive offseasons is pointless unless the Knicks know that Durant is coming, or that they’ll be able to broker flat-out junkings for Tim Hardaway Jr. (three years, $54.5 million) and Courtney Lee (two years, $25 million) en route to entering dual-max territory.

This trade represents a nice middle ground. The Knicks are taking on $7.5 million in salary for 2018-19, but they’re holding onto their best buffers and saving $3.1 million next season by replacing Noah with Ian Mahinmi. 

That sliver of savings is not insignificant. It amounts to basically half of what they would be paying Noah anyway. They could make up the other $3.3 million elsewhere, and Mahinmi should be easier to pawn off as an expiring deal after 2018-19 ends. Worse comes to worst, the Knicks can stretch him at $5.1 million per year across three seasons—a slightly more digestible number than Noah’s $6.4 million. 

It shouldn’t be too hard for the Wizards to talk themselves into this not-a-blockbuster. Noah might be playable when deployed as Dwight Howard‘s backup. More than that, this brings them within $3.6 million of the tax line. They’ll save a ton of money even if they don’t lean into an extra salary dump at the trade deadline.

Nothing happens here if the Wizards treat Austin Rivers as an asset. They shouldn’t. He’s no sure thing as a second-unit anchor. Lance Thomas’ cross-position defense, coupled with his $1 million partial guarantee for 2019-20, is the more useful chip. And who knows: Maybe Emmanuel Mudiay, once dubbed John Wall in training, shows career-best progress during a contract year.

*Note: Rivers cannot be traded in combination with other players until after Aug. 26.

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