When it comes to Nerlens Noel and the Dallas Mavericks, there’s really not a whole lot that we actually know, other than he likes hot dogs and he’s not getting to play much this season. Some people think that Noel’s low minutes and DNPs are a result of the Mavs front office feeling slighted when he supposedly turned down a four-year, $70 million deal this past summer. Others believe that it’s more on Noel’s shoulders, in part because of previous murmurs about his work ethic when he was with the Philadelphia 76ers.
There’s probably some truth to both of these claims, but it’s the sort of situation where we’ll unfortunately probably never know the full story. That doesn’t make it any less fascinating, though, and it’s interesting to consider some of the comments made by Noel’s college coach, John Calipari, in this context.
After Dallas traded Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and a first-round pick (that later converted into two second-round picks) for Noel, this is what Calipari had to say in regards to how he’d fit with the team:
(Noel’s) not an issue in the locker room. The other players will figure out he's a good guy. Now, he's got to get on a mission—and for the Mavericks that's a good thing—he's got to be on a mission for his career. He can't be messing around because the Mavs have no real money in the game.
At the time, that quote didn’t seem particularly meaningful, mainly because we were all wrapped up in the idea that the Mavs had stolen a guy Donnie Nelson called a “Tyson Chandler starter kit.” But looking back, if you consider all that’s transpired since and squint just right, you can see where Calipari may have been hinting at Noel having some motivation issues and perhaps insinuating that Noel wasn’t making a proper effort while he was in Philly.
The bright side of all of this? If Noel’s lack of effort is, in fact, the real reason he hasn’t been on the court much this season, it could actually make this seemingly awkward situation a little less awkward. Some people have suggested that Noel is a problem in the locker room because he’s not playing, but if you watch the games, you’ll see him get off the bench during timeouts to encourage his teammates.
So maybe this is a little more straightforward than we all thought. Maybe there truly is no malice between the team and Noel. Maybe this is just who Noel is, and both sides have accepted that.
For the majority of this season, I have wondered if Rick Carlisle has been trying to light a competitive fire in Noel — and given the comments below from Coach Calipari, I think that’s exactly what Carlisle is trying to do.
This is what Calipari had to say about Noel when his back is against the wall:
There's something in him when he's up against it, or the team is, there's something that comes out of him that you know you can rely on—and that's part of leadership. Not every player is going to be real vocal and do all those things. Some lead by example, others lead because the players know when the crap hits the fan, he's not moving.
It’s unfortunate that we haven’t really seen this side of Nerlens Noel. From the outside looking in, it definitely seems like the “crap” has hit the fan. But all we can do at this point is wait and hope that coach and player find a way to get on the same page.
On December 15, Noel will be eligible to be traded, although he has the power to veto any trade offer because he signed the one-year qualifying offer this summer. But if the Mavs and Noel can’t magically fix this soap opera in the next few weeks, don’t be surprised if he’s moved before the trade deadline on February 8, even if Dallas gets little in return.