Last weekend, it was confirmed that the Clippers would sign veteran center Joakim Noah for the rest of the season and the playoffs. Late last night however, Jovan Buha of the Athletic and Dan Woike of the LA Times broke the news that Noah’s deal would extend through 2021 as well on a non-guaranteed contract.
On the surface, this doesn’t change Noah’s role or function on this team at all. He will still be a 3rd center who will probably get run at some point when Doc Rivers doesn’t trust Ivica Zubac and can’t play Montrezl Harrell due to his size and defense.
However, signing Noah through 2021, even non-guaranteed, is interesting. Noah is 35 years old with a ton of miles on his legs, and has had several major injuries. There are questions about his ability to still play (despite his strong 2019 season for the Grizzlies) this season, much less next year. On the other hand, the fact that 2021 is non-guaranteed removes just about all the risk. If Noah doesn’t look good down the stretch and in the playoffs, the Clippers can simply waive him in the “free agency” period. No harm done.
One way to read this, however, is as a (very) minor hedge against Montrezl Harrell departing in free agency. Trez is up for a huge pay day this summer, and he will likely go wherever pays him the most, which might or might not be the Clippers. If he leaves, the Clippers will have a huge hole at backup big man, and if Noah is here, he plugs that up at least a little bit (though the Clippers would almost certainly look for a true reserve for Zubac unless Noah dazzles this year).
There’s probably not too much to read into this, just the Clippers seeing if they can get a veteran contributor for cheap in 2021, but Trez’s free agency will become ever more important as October nears. It’s certainly something to keep an eye on in Orlando.
Finally, congratulations to Noah, who looked like he was on his way out of the NBA several times, and has continued to crawl back into it. Hopefully, he can help win the Clippers their first championship this fall.