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Nerlens Noel and the Mavericks are playing hardball

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This summer’s market has dealt Noel a bad hand. That could be both good and bad for Dallas going forward.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Dallas Mavericks Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

At this point, it’s no secret that Nerlens Noel (or at least his agent, Happy Walters) wants more money than what the Dallas Mavericks are willing to give him. This isn’t an indictment of Noel at all. The Mavs love him and wouldn’t have traded for him this season if he wasn’t a big part of their future plans. But basketball is a business like any other, and the Mavs have to do what’s best for the franchise going forward. If they can sign Noel for much less than his max, Dallas will have so much more financial flexibility in the coming years.

At this point, the Mavs feel like they don’t have to outbid themselves, and they’re absolutely correct.

There are a lot of reasons for this long-lasting standoff in the contract negotiations. For starters, Noel’s camp (and apparently the rest of us too) completely misjudged his market value this summer. By the time July 1st came, everyone had accepted that Noel was going to get a max deal. Obviously that hasn’t been the case thus far, and without any offer sheets from other teams, Noel has very little, if any, leverage in these negotiations.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Dallas Mavericks
In 22 games played with the Mavericks last season, Nerlens Noel averaged 8.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Cuban has chosen to play this out the smart way, at least business-wise. With the NBA’s salary cap officially set at $99 million this season (about $3 million less that what was initially expected), a lot of teams had to tweak their plans a little bit and crunch the numbers before free agency began. Unlike last summer, when players like Timofey Mosgov were pulling in insane contracts left and right, this summer saw teams’ money dry up a lot quicker.

Should Noel be making quite a bit more money than Mosgov (4-year, $64 million deal)? Yes, probably so. In last year’s offseason, would Noel get a max contract? More than likely. But, if you’re Noel or Walters, you can’t judge current value based on last year’s market, which appears to have been their mistake. That’s just not how business works. If that’s their mindset though, no wonder it’s being reported that Noel is "very disappointed" with negotiations so far. The shift in the market from one season to the next could potentially cost Noel over $20 million before it’s said and done, and that’s the main reason he and Walters are trying to sweat the Mavs for all they can get.

Other than market-related issues, Noel’s injury history could also be keeping other teams from giving him a competitive offer sheet. Naturally, teams don’t want to pay a guy over $20 million per year when he hasn’t proven he can stay on the court consistently.

When free agency started, Dallas was prepared to match any offer Noel received, even a max contract that would pay him $25 million per year. That still stands. If a team comes out of nowhere to offer Noel that kind of money, Cuban will pull out his checkbook and call it a day. But, unfortunately for Noel, that’s probably not going happen. While Dallas is probably making the right business decision here, this standoff could be both good and bad for Dallas in the foreseeable future.

Pro: financial flexibility

Obviously, the Mavs can benefit here by getting Noel on a bargain of a deal. I’ve been saying for months that if Dallas can get him to sign for around $16-$18 million per year, it would really set them up down the road. That would make signing back Seth Curry next summer a little easier. The difference between $25 million per year and $18 million per year is huge for team-building (both in free agency AND through potential trades), especially if the salary cap continues to rise even a little bit each year.

Even if Noel decided to just accept the Mavs’ qualifying offer (very risky, very doubtful), Dallas would have even more financial flexibility going into the 2018 offseason. Let’s all hope the Mavs lock Noel up long-term now though and avoid him going into unrestricted free agency next summer.

Con: a Noel grudge?

I’ve seen people on social media (many of them Utah Jazz fans) saying that the Mavs should just go ahead and pay Noel what he wants, because he could possibly hold a grudge against the franchise when he hits unrestricted free agency after his next deal. A lot of that talk comes fresh off of seeing Gordon Hayward leave Utah for the Boston Celtics this summer.

In 2014, instead of agreeing to a new deal right off the bat, the Jazz waited around until Hayward signed a 4-year, $63 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets. The Jazz did eventually match that offer, and despite people thinking Haward held a grudge over that, his agent, Mark Bartelstein, said at the time, that the Jazz "made a great statement" to his client by matching the offer sheet, and in all likelihood, the 2014 negotiations had little effect on Hayward leaving this offseason.

Regardless, if Noel lives up to his potential, it’s very hard to imagine him holding a grudge with the Mavs. Give him 4 or 5 good years with Cuban, Rick Carlisle and the rest of the young core, and I’m sure they can kiss and make up. By all accounts, Noel was getting along with members of the organization just fine at Summer League this month.

Noel will hold all the leverage next time contract negotiations come around if he can go out and prove that he’s a max player. Right now though, he needs to accept the Mavs’ best offer and start focusing on the 2017-2018 season. Pick and rolls with Dennis Smith Jr. await.