Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks and one of their best players are in a contract stalemate that’s dragged out longer than anyone expected


  • nerlens noelTony
    Gutierrez/AP

    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.

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