What To Do About Nerlens Noel

By Darreck Kirby
Project Shanks Creative Director

When the Dallas Mavericks sent Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut, and what should end up being two second round picks to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for a young rim protector in Nerlens Noel, the storyline surrounding the deal was that Dallas had swindled the Sixers front office. Over the remainder of the season, Noel would see action in 22 games for the Mavericks, averaging 8.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and a block per contest. In those 22 games, he would start just 12 times and continue battling nagging injuries. It wasn’t stellar by any means, but there were flashes of what could be, and for Dallas, that was more than enough.

Feb 25, 2017; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks center Nerlens Noel (3) plays in his first game as a Maverick during the second quarter against the New Orleans Pelicans at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Going into restricted free agency, the word was that multiple teams were prepared to offer Noel a max contract, totaling something in the neighborhood of four years and $105 million, which the Mavs were expected to match. And then on July 1st, free agency began.

As the weeks passed, not only did Noel and the Mavs continually fail to reach an agreement, but Noel himself failed to lure leverage from other suitors. The reason? Simply put, in today’s NBA the center position is a dying breed -especially offensively limited centers. Add to that the fact that despite being just 23 years old with four years of experience, Noel has battled knee issues since his freshman season at Kentucky. So while the salary cap might be rising year after year, teams around the league continue to steer clear of the Mavs’ big man while they continually chase the Golden State Warriors and their small ball style of play.

What this led many to believe was that Dallas was suddenly taking a frugal approach to free agency, understanding it had all the leverage in the world and still enamored with the possibility of acquiring the proverbial “big fish,” in the form of Demarcus Cousins. Nevermind the fact that such a strategy requires banking on the New Orleans Pelicans not only failing with the new elite tandem of Cousins and Anthony Davis but failing so bad the Pelicans panic and ship him away to ensure they get something rather than nothing should he walk in free agency that Summer. The perception of such a strategy led many MFFL to audibly groan. Again? How could we really be chasing a big fish again when we already have an asset in our net? Why not secure the player you just traded for and make sure your young core can play together for the next few years?

And then the story deepened.

Shortly after Noel’s agent, Andy Miller stated how disappointed he and his client were with the Mavericks’ offers up to that point, even flat out stating they weren’t even “serious offers,” Noel surprised many and fired Miller in favor of Lebron’s agent, Dan Fagen. Why is this noteworthy? Besides the fact that Dallas is still trying to resign Noel, Fagen has, in the past, led clients like Tristan Thompson into a holdout that stretched into training camp. In Thompson’s case, Fagen eventually got his client the deal he wanted. The key difference in that case, however, was the presence and pressure of Lebron James on the Cleveland front office. That factor is absent in Dallas.

Whether the next bombshell was leaked by the team itself or rather Noel’s former agent, remains to be seen, but it has since become clear that Dallas’s supposedly unserious offer was for $17.5 million per year. It’s important to note that the number of years was not revealed, however. While many, including Noel’s peers, CJ Collum and Wilson Chandler, have since chided the center’s pursuit of a max contract over the Mavs’ favorable offer, if the deal was, say, a 2 year arrangement rather than a 4 or 5 year contract, one could better understand the claim that it wasn’t a “serious” offer. After all, for many oft-injured players, security is a big deal.

Either way, one thing is clear: Nerlens Noel has until mid-October to sign his qualifying offer, and if he doesn’t sign that and/or ultimately reach an agreement before training camp, he could be forced to bank on himself for one year in Dallas before accepting a bigger deal elsewhere. The problem? Going down such a path would require him to make even less money than he did last season.

I get where Noel is coming from. He knows Dallas needs him and he knows he has immense potential to be a Tyson Chandler type player. What he doesn’t seem to realize is that a career 10 PPG and 7.5 boards isn’t -even in today’s inflated NBA- worthy of a max contract. At least not when it comes with the injury baggage and limited offensive game. Hopefully his new agent can talk some sense into him and get him to take a more reasonable deal for both sides so that he can be apart of the young Dallas core with guys like Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes, and Seth Curry.

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