The Nerlens Noel saga in Dallas has really played out as uncomfortably as the conversation with your grandmother about your ex will at Thanksgiving dinner this week.
The 23 year-old big man began the season with an inspiring 16 point, 11 rebound, 3 block performance on opening night against the Hawks. A sign of things to come, right? Not at all. Noel has averaged just 13.8 minutes per game this season, 8.3 in the month of November, and just over 5 minutes in each of Dallas’ last five games, including his 0 in a DNP-CD against Cleveland last Saturday.
Noel’s total minutes played in Dallas’ last FIVE games (16) doesn’t even exceed the total number of minutes he got in the season opener. He only played 20 minutes in the season opener!
So why aren’t the Mavs playing him decent minutes whenever they’re clearly in a stage where they need to prioritize growing young talent? Jump to whichever popular belief you want (coach Rick Carlisle hates him, he’s not playing hard enough, he hasn’t earned the minutes, etc.) and it’s probably a part of the entire equation. Even if it can be justified, it still doesn’t make it the right approach for an organization that has had a capable center with upside only a few times in their nearly 40 year history.
The popular narrative the last couple weeks has been that Noel is as good as gone. Whether that be walking this summer when he’s an unrestricted free agent or via trade sometime before the February 8th trade deadline, it’s just a foregone conclusion for most.
Tap the brakes, squirt. It’s not as simple or obvious as it appears.
On the trade front, thanks in part to his lack of minutes and to his lack of performing well in said limited minutes, Noel has an insanely limited trade value as a player right now. That’s not even the whole picture, though. Add in that he’s a free agent after the season. Any team that trades for Noel might lose him after however many games he plays for them this season.
If that weren’t enough to slow your trade roll, Noel has a no-trade clause because of the terms of him accepting the $4.1 million qualifying offer he opted for instead of a reported 4 year/$70 million contract from the Mavericks this summer. For those thinking, “Noel would accept a trade to ANYWHERE besides here”… please, sit down and stop yelling.
One would hope that the last five months or so have taught Noel about the harsh business side of the NBA. Besides a few exceptions, Dirk Nowitzki being one of them, no franchise values a player as much as the player thinks they do. After being offered slightly more than half of the contract he wanted, Noel’s ego has to have taken a major hit. He knows that he still has a lot to prove in this league. His politically correct answers following games show that he has learned to say the right thing following some bad media excursions during his time in Philadelphia.
Getting back to the original point, Noel wouldn’t just accept a trade to anywhere just to get out of Dallas and away from Rick Carlisle. The young man has hopefully learned that nothing is guaranteed in this league and simply moving on wouldn’t assure success in his near future or beyond.
The most important factor in a trade out of Dallas being unlikely for Noel is that his bird rights, the right for a team to go over the cap to re-sign a player, will not transfer to whatever team would receive him in a trade. Teams have spent like crazy the last few summers since the salary cap has spiked and now plateaued, and very few teams will have significant cap space this upcoming summer. Dallas is one of those teams and will have virtually every tactical/financial edge to bringing back Noel if they want to.
With teams having limited funds to spend this summer, where would a player like Noel even fall in line for anyone able to spend money? In a league where the common big man is losing value almost nightly, Noel faces some steep competition in the 2018 big man free agency class. DeMarcus Cousins, Jusuf Nurkic, Clint Capela, Brook Lopez and even his former 76ers teammate Jahlil Okafor are among the big men slated to be available this summer. Who is going to pay Noel before and/or more than those players who are being given consistent minutes and performing well (with the exception of Okafor)?
The Mavericks will probably target one or a few of those players in free agency with their anticipated large chunk of cap space in addition to possibly looking at one of the talented bigs at the top of this year’s draft class, but Noel will still be there whenever those options fall through. They’ll still be able to offer more money than anyone else if they want to, at this rate they probably won’t need to, but it’s a useful edge to have.
The reality for Nerlens Noel is that he made the wrong decision this summer. He had a chance to lock up a long-term contract in this league making close to $20 million a season. He thought he could do better in the future. Now, it will probably take several seasons of performing on short deals to prove he’s even close to worth that much. His best chance to land that big contract is probably still in Dallas. If he waits out the retirement of Dirk Nowitzki and performs well when called upon, there will be a role for him on this team eventually. One would hope he realizes that and isn’t letting his emotions and ego make any more bad career choices for him like he did this summer.
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