The long contractual stalemate between the Dallas Mavericks and Nerlens Noel has finally come to end, but the result is one hardly anyone expected.
On Saturday, Noel decided to bet on himself by inking the one-year, $4.1 million qualifying offer tendered by the Mavericks instead of signing a rumored four-year, $70 million offer that Dallas allegedly put forth on July 1, the first day of free agency. It’s a move that SBNation’s Tim Cato said had some of Noel’s own teammates scratching their heads.
Nerlens was offered a 4-year deal he declined, and some Mavs teammates think he should've taken it. An update: https://t.co/SBwOVnQVEC
— Tim Cato (@tim_cato) August 26, 2017
Also, per the Dallas Morning-News‘ Brad Townsend, Noel’s mother, Dorcina, said her son told her “… if Dallas gives me $20 million, I’m going to be there because they love me there.”
So what happened? Did Dallas ever put together a second offer after Noel turned down the initial $70 million deal and demanded the max? What about this?
Also, Noel's mom, Dorcina, planned to move to Dallas but now tells me: "I don't think I'm going to move there for one year." https://t.co/WW0FKw4s72
— Brad Townsend (@townbrad) August 27, 2017
This was always looked at as the worst-case scenario in these negotiations between the Mavericks and Noel mainly because it doesn’t lock in the promising young center for what figures to be a rebuilding process for Dallas. Noel is now set to try his hand as an unrestricted free agent next year and we all get to run this back one more time.
There’s a lot to dissect here, so let’s start with the numbers. Noel is essentially leaving $66 million on the table to “bet on himself” and try to earn a maximum offer next year that didn’t materialize this offseason. We can get into whether that’s feasible later. In order to recoup what he’s forfeiting this year, Noel’s next deal (that would be the one he signs as an unrestricted free agent in 2018) would need to average $22 million a year for the next three years. It’s worth noting that the only offer Noel got this year topped out at $17 million a year. A lot would have to change for the 22-year old to get the raise he feels he deserves from any team next summer.
Dallasbasketball.com’s Mike Fisher did an excellent job illustrating this situation here:
Noel comps pic.twitter.com/gUwsoa5eGa
— mike fisher ✭ (@fishsports) August 27, 2017
As you can see, if Noel does indeed get a max offer next year, he’s succeeded in betting on himself. However, that appears to be the only way Noel comes out of this not looking like he missed an enormous opportunity to cash in, even in a deflated market.
We can argue whether this was the “right thing” for Noel to do, or if the Mavericks erred in the negotiations at all but for now, it’s a moot point. He will indeed be a Maverick this season and now Dallas is in the familiar position of having an intriguing young talent at an absolute bargain of a salary just like they were with Curry last season (who the Mavericks signed to a two-year, $6 million deal in 2016).
That leads to my next point: Dallas now has $12 million in unexpected cap room and a boatload of flexibility next offseason. What they will use it for (or if they will at all) remains a mystery, but the Mavericks have a history of being very creative with what room they hold.
The Mavericks also still hold Noel’s bird rights, a key element in the flexibility aspect of this deal. As mentioned before, Curry is due a significant raise next season provided he contributes the same kind of spark to Dallas that he did last year. To this point, the only hindrance to bringing him back was the fact that the Mavericks simply were not expecting to have space to sign Noel this offseason (for either the max or whatever anyone else offered) and then give Curry his due in the summer of 2018. Having $12m in extra cap space certainly makes things more flexible and retaining both players more doable.
Let’s get back to the issue that everyone is now officially more concerned about which is bringing back Noel for a long-term deal next offseason. Leverage still figures to favor the Mavericks more as far as the numbers are concerned (they can offer more years and incremental 8% raises, more than any other teams), but Noel is literally free to pick his team. If there was an advantage to Dallas stealing Noel away from Philadelphia as he was about to enter restricted free agency this summer, it’s that Dallas would have the power to match and retain any other offers for Noel that came in and bring him back at that cost. As an unrestricted free agent next year, Noel is very much free to walk away from Dallas at a lesser cost if he so chooses, but the reasons for that are speculative and there’s no reason to think he’d leave money on the table again.
There’s the possibility that Noel, for all his desires to get paid what he sees as his worth, has misread the free agency market for 2018 before it even arrives. The salary cap projection for 2018 is $102 million which figures to set up another very tight situation in terms of the money available. The incremental raises we discussed earlier won’t be available with the cap rising by such a small margin.
Also, consider the other notable big men who will be hitting free agency next year, namely DeMarcus Cousins and possibly DeAndre Jordan if he declines his player option. Will there be enough money left in the league for Noel to fulfill his wishes after the big names are signed? It’s very likely that he’ll be right where he left off this summer.
There aren’t many teams that will have the money to pursue Noel next year. The Hawks, Bulls and Lakers stand out as the biggest threats to potentially try to lure him away. Per 105.3 The Fan’s Jeff “Skin” Wade, Noel’s partnership with Klutch Sports and, by proxy, LeBron James provides another interesting wrinkle.
I know you're thinking about Cowboys or the fight right now, but my Noel fear is the package deal with LBJ next summer. Big promises made.
— Jeff Skin Wade (@SkinWade) August 27, 2017
The Lakers attempting to clear out cap space for James and/or Paul George next year has been the league’s worst-kept secret for months. Could The King have something up his sleeve that would allow him to pair with an athletic, shot-blocking center should he decide to head to the Lakers? It’s mostly speculative at this point, heck, it’s all speculative, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.
As it stands right now, Noel is a member of the Mavericks and Dallas will have the benefit of two young talents playing at a contract-year level in 2017-18 on bargain contracts. From a managerial standpoint, that’s pretty well done even if it doesn’t really feel quite right.
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