- Nerlens Noel was one of the top free agents this summer and thought to be the Mavericks’ top priority. Over a month later, he still hasn’t been signed as the two sides haggle over a contract. With training camps not far away, both sides are running out of time and leverage.
NBA training camps are less than two months away, and one of the best free agents remains unsigned.
23-year-old center Nerlens Noel entered free agency as one of the best players on the market, but is still without a team.
Noel was reportedly the Dallas Mavericks’ top priority this offseason after the team traded for him from the Philadelphia 76ers at the trade deadline.
A young, athletic, defensive-minded center, Noel could theoretically be a building block for a Mavs roster that’s in a state of flux.
But a strange twist happened in this year’s free agency, and Noel has been a victim. One year after a historic spending spree that resulted from an unprecedented cap spike, the market dried up to a certain extent. This summer, teams handed out shorter deals, often for less money, and while some restricted free agents hit big paydays, others saw teams pass on offering big money.
Restricted free agency is a particularly tough game to play. The free agent’s previous team has the right to match any contract offer. If an opposing team offers a fair deal, the original team will likely match. To lure the free agent away, an opposing team usually has to offer an overpay that the original team would be unlikely to match.
In Noel’s case, this didn’t seem to happen. Eddie Sefko of Dallas News reported on July 18 that Noel may have been seeking a deal worth between $100 million (which Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams got in 2016) and $64 million (which Minnesota Timberwolves center Gorgui Dieng got in 2016) over multiple years.
Besides the price, a hold-up has been the structure. The Mavs reportedly want to keep money open for free agency next year, which makes finding a middle-ground for Noel very difficult.
Noel’s agent Happy Walters told Sefko: “We’re very disappointed with where things stand. Nerlens loves Dallas and spent June there working out, but we’re still waiting on a serious offer.”
That was over three weeks ago and there doesn’t seem to have been much progress. David Humphrey of the Star-Telegram reported on August 4 that “all is quiet” on the Noel front, even as the Mavs add players from their Summer League roster.
Noel now has little leverage outside of one play – he could take the $6 million, one-year qualifying offer, then become an unrestricted free agent next season and have his choice of where to go. Many players resist this path, however, as it offers little security. For a player like Noel, who tore his ACL in college and missed his rookie year, that’s a risky option.
However, the Mavericks likely don’t feel any pressure to raise their offer. This late into the offseason, most teams no longer have the necessary cap space to offer Noel a big contract, so there is likely little outside threat.
It’s unclear when this stalemate will end, but each day, training camps draw nearer. It’s in the best interest of both teams to come to long-term, reasonable deal, but with this much time having already passed, it’s worth wondering if that will happen.