Now that the Clippers’ 2020 season has reached its disappointing end, 213Hoops will work through the roster player-by-player for our “Exit Interview” series. Today’s exit interview features veteran center Joakim Noah.
Years in NBA: 13
Key Stats: In 5 “seeding games” for LAC, 10 minutes per game averaging 10.1 points, 11.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.7 blocks, 4.3 turnovers, and 6.5 fouls per 36 minutes.
Contract Status: Non-guaranteed deal for 2020-21 worth the veteran’s minimum of $2,692,991. Non-bird rights in 2020 off-season or early bird rights in 2021 off-season.
As the season progressed, there was little doubt that the Clippers were going to need to add another center to their roster. Beyond the lack of trust Doc Rivers had in his starter, Ivica Zubac, who only played 18 minutes a night during the regular season, and the well-documented limitations of backup Montrezl Harrell, LA simply needed another body. With depth behind Zubac provided by the 6’7″ Harrell, 6’8″ power forward JaMychal Green, and unproven prospects Johnathan Motley (6’8″) and Mfiondu Kabengele (6’9″), the Clippers lacked any legit size defensively and on the glass should Zubac face foul trouble.
While Noah is well past his prime, he figured to provide Rivers with that insurance. A two-time All-Star who reached peak recognition as the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year and All-NBA 1st Team Center in 2013-14, Noah brought experience and knowledge, even if his ability was never going to measure up to his past production as a star. In addition to providing an emergency option that the team needed, his high-IQ play on both ends had the potential to provide Rivers a savvy defender and high-level passer if he became dissatisfied with his rotation bigs. However, those ambitions may have been excessive for a 35-year-old coming off of an Achilles injury.
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While Noah never realized that potential of helping the team in a significant way, playing just the final minute of two of the Clippers’ double-digit playoff losses, he did bring depth to help the team endure the absence of Montrezl Harrell and, to a lesser extent, Ivica Zubac during the bubble’s seeding games. Zubac was on a minutes restriction to start the bubble while Harrell missed all 8 seeding games due to a family situation.
Noah was used sparingly in the seeding games, with JaMychal Green and Ivica Zubac both playing extremely well and eating up the rotation minutes at center, but he did provide depth in spots for Rivers, mostly to provide rest. In total, he played 50 minutes in seeding games, 29 of which came in the Clippers’ finale with most of their core players resting and Ivica Zubac playing just 10 minutes. Ultimately, it’s hard to say that he had a significant impact that couldn’t have been provided by Kabengele and/or Motley, who were both left off the team’s bubble roster. Noah’s only meaningful playing time came in 10 minutes in the Clippers’ seeding opener against the Lakers (with Zubac on the aforementioned minutes restriction), and he didn’t make much of an impact.
Additionally, many fans were disappointed that Rivers didn’t turn to Noah in the playoffs, with Montrezl Harrell struggling immensely. Whether you blame Trez for his struggles or think it had more to do with poor coaching or a lack of conditioning due to a late arrival in the bubble, there’s no doubt that an otherwise-good team was awful when he was on the floor. But even then, I wouldn’t have turned to the little-used 35-year-old–Green should have been featured more as the team’s backup center when Zubac was resting.
Overall, Noah was an insurance policy, and just because he wasn’t needed doesn’t mean that he was a bad signing. You don’t need to get in a wreck for health and car insurance to be good investments, and it was ultimately extremely good for the Clippers that Noah wasn’t needed, as that would have likely meant an injury to Zubac.
Future with Clippers
Despite being a worthwhile insurance policy, Noah’s inability to earn minutes or make a positive impact in his short time with the team likely indicates that he won’t be returning to the roster next season. As part of his rest-of-season contract, Noah agreed to a non-guaranteed minimum-salary deal for the 2020-21 season, meaning the Clippers have the option to keep Noah around or cut him loose without owing him anything.
Even with many expecting normal backup Montrezl Harrell to walk in free agency, I don’t think Noah is the answer–the Clippers need to find a backup for Zubac who has more gas left in the tank than Joakim, likely dedicating their taxpayer mid-level exception to the position. If the team adds a second reliable center and holds on to Kabengele, their 2019 1st round pick, it doesn’t seem like Noah adds a lot. That’s especially true with a potential impending roster crunch as the Clippers keep Kabengele and fellow prospect Terance Mann on their 15-man roster and potentially add one or more new rookies via their 57th overall pick and any draft pick they purchase in the next two months.
When all is said and done, it’s possible that Noah will have a chance to make the roster as 15th man in training camp, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Clippers find themselves with 15 guaranteed contracts and the former Defensive Player of the Year is on the outside looking in. However, Noah’s contract could also help the Clippers in a trade. His minimum-salary deal can be absorbed by a partner team without counting as incoming salary under the minimum salary exception, while helping the Clippers patch together enough outgoing salary to facilitate a trade for a player with a larger contract. This could be particularly crucial in balancing the trade math in any Montrezl Harrell sign-and-trade deal, as Harrell’s incoming trade salary for his new team would be the value of his new contract, while the base-year compensation rule would limit his outgoing trade number for LAC to the greater of $6M or 50% of his new salary.
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