The Dallas Mavericks are playing hardball with restricted free agent Nerlens Noel. Noel and the Mavericks are waiting for an outside offer and both seem to be left waiting.
Now that summer league is over, and the majority of the free agents have signed contracts, our attention turns to the remaining players left on the market who will not command max-level contracts. But there is one notable exception, a player who many thought would receive a max-level contract but has since seen his market turn to dust. He awaits an offer resembling the one he thought he would get so easily: Nerlens Noel.
After news of Noel's agent saying they were unhappy with the state of contract negotiations was reported yesterday, it appears his frustrations have reached a boiling point after a week of binge drinking with Mark Cuban in Las Vegas finally ended with a cold dose of hangover-induced reality. Noel may be telling his agent to make his angst known in the media. Hoping that attracts a dark horse bidder to offer a large contract, but his threat rings as hollow as Beric Dondarrion (oh, you weren't here for obscure Game of Thrones jokes?). There are only a handful of NBA teams with enough cap room to sign him to a max-contract, and none of them need his services, particularly at that price point.
Numerous factors are contributing to this harsh landscape for Noel. The current glut of players at the center position throughout the league is not helping. Nearly the entire league is already committed to a starting center for at least two more years. By process of elimination, I've found the only team that even remotely makes sense as a candidate to offer Noel the max contract he lusts for is the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets ate into their cap space to acquire D'Angelo Russell with Timofey Mozgov's exorbitant contract, which he was gifted last summer by a then-Lakers front office possessing the long-term financial planning faculties of a 6th grader. Only the Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards are dumb enough to pay a backup center more than $15 million a year, and it doesn't seem Brooklyn's new GM plans on making stupidity his platform for team-building.
It would appear that Dallas has no competition in resigning Noel. He is a restricted free agent, and the Mavericks can match any offer he receives on the open market so it is doubtful that any team would make a tender. And so, knowing they are competing against only themselves, Dallas has decided to dig its heels in the dirt and firmly refuse to give Noel a max contract. I'm not sure what the offer currently is that Noel is reported "very unhappy" with, but the Mavericks currently have $81.3 million in guaranteed salaries next year not counting Noel's qualifying offer. With the cap at $99 million and the luxury threshold at about $119 million, the Mavericks have plenty of room to fit in Noel's contract comfortably even if it was a max, which would start at roughly $25 million a year. However, with no reason to pay him such a lucrative contract considering the market for him, there is no incentive for the team to offer a max deal.
It must be frustrating for Noel, to see what happened last summer with the NBA handing out money like the Iron Bank to influential Westerosi households (are you sure you're not here for the Game of Thrones jokes?) and find no such available marketplace for him. As recently as a few weeks ago, he received quiet assurance of a max contract. Perhaps he should focus his blame on the agent who is now complaining about his situation in the news because it would seem to me that it is his job to go out and speak with teams and find a suitable offer for his client. In fact, it seems to me that is his only job, and it also seems to me that 29 teams have graciously ended a conversation with him by saying, "No thanks." So with no leverage in the bargaining process, he is now trying to make the Mavericks look like the bad guy for not offering more money. This is essentially the equivalent of someone placing a bid at an auction, there being no other bidders, and the auctioneer saying, "Eh, bid more against yourself to make the price higher." Who in their right mind would then make a higher bid than their first was?
Noel will be back
Noel is a good young player who has shown tremendous upside. He has all the tools the Mavericks desperately need at the center position. Future President Dennis Smith Jr. is running the pick-and-roll with Noel as a lob threat looks enticing. Noel is perfect for defending the rim alongside Dirk, who I expect to see still shooting fadeaways in a Mavs jersey in 2042 for six dollars and a bag of corn nuts. Dallas is going to re-sign him eventually, though a process that is probably going to take a while to resolve itself. In the meantime, all we can do is watch Dennis Smith Jr. highlights and thank the Basketball Gods for letting him fall to 9th.
Oh, and maybe Smith Jr. sliding to 9th overall also calls for a gift basket sending to Orlando, Chicago and New York, the NBA front office version of The Three Stooges. You have to feel awful for Mike Breen having to call his summer league game, though. What a Black Mirror-esque torture chamber that must have been for one of the very best announcers in the league (shout-out MSG network).
Slow news ahead
Unfortunately for Mavericks fans, I think it is going to be a slow couple of months for news. They do not seem to have any interest in signing any other free agents aside from Noel, but Dallas has been known to come out of nowhere with surprise signings in the summer, and I would be a fool to count it out. But if they keep Brussino and promote another player from their summer league roster, like Brandon Ashley or 2016 CBA MVP and Summer League darling Ding Yanyuhang, the roster is set.
I think Dallas ideally would like to remain under the cap to theoretically gain an asset in a trade with a team looking to unload some salary. Perhaps they could sneak into the Houston/New York talks to trade Melo and grab something in exchange for taking on a bad contract? I know it's heresy to suggest anything that may help the Rockets, but Dallas is working on a different timeline and should not care if Houston is good in 2017. They should care if Houston is good in 2020.
Assuming their best players decline, Dallas should grab an asset that would make the Rockets worse in the long-term to help them in the short-term in their noble but foolish pursuit of competing with the Golden State Monsters. There probably is not an asset to be acquired in that deal realistically that Dallas would sacrifice its cap space for, but in this league trades always come up. It would be wise to be one of the few teams with the ability to absorb salary to facilitate a deal.
With that in mind, we know why Dallas is playing hardball with its contract offer to Noel, and I agree with the tactic, although there is the remote possibility Noel signs the qualifying offer and is an unrestricted free agent next summer. There is almost no chance he does this, however, as the market, next offseason does not appear to be any better than it is this summer. Noel also costs himself money by not signing. Just ask Patrick Patterson or George Hill about not taking extensions and misjudging their value on the market, and Noel will probably sprint to sign the contract currently on the table for him.
Like all Mavericks fans, I would like to see this situation come to a conclusion, but we are just going to have to take a page from the Sixers fans' field guide and #TrustTheProcess.