News of Nerlens Noel signing a one-year qualifying offer officially broke on Saturday. The Mavericks, who entered the off-season sweating a possible max offer sheet from a rival team, will instead watch as Noel tries to get a max offer next summer after a successful season.
In a vacuum, in a NBA universe where all things are equal and the past and the future do not exist, there isn’t anything egregious about this. Nerlens Noel, objectively, is not worth a max contract. He has a troubled injury history, has only reached the 30 minutes per game plateau once in three seasons and plays a position that is becoming exceedingly less valuable across the league. So him taking the qualifying offer and proving his value isn’t, in theory, a bad thing.
Guess what? That’s not how the NBA works! Things are so much more fluid. So, with the news on Saturday tossing around all sorts of hot takes about Noel’s value and what the Mavs should or shouldn’t have done, here’s mine — this is a colossal failure from all parts of this process.
I went on a Twitter rant Saturday afternoon about it, and I’m here to expand on those points below. Consider it personal therapy. Also all you people that think Noel isn’t that good because his per game points and rebounds totals aren’t that high can go drink paint.
1. The Mavericks traded for Noel, which means they understood his injury concern and wanted him anyway
2. Noel had one issue in Dallas (a sore left knee kept him out of three games) but was otherwise healthy to play. He should be fine. If the Mavericks didn’t think he would be, don’t even trade for him.
These points seem fairly obvious. If the Mavericks are playing the injury card with Noel, why did they trade for him in the first place? The assumption when the trade was made was that Noel was a part of the core for the long run — not a rental. The logic breaks down here because you assume the Mavericks did their due diligence before the trade, and Noel checked out medically.
3. By almost every metric, Noel projects as an All-Star or at the very least, a very, very good player. The only thing holding him back so far has been his minutes/role. He posted a positive net rating in Dallas despite the circumstances of a mid-season trade and being on a lottery-bound team.
Another part where the Noel logic breaks down — he was good! He was really good! Noel posted a 1.3 net rating while learning the ropes of Rick Carlisle’s offensive and defensive schemes and playing on a team that wound up earning a top-10 pick. Noel didn’t average a ton of minutes in Dallas because A) the Dirk at center lineup was still grooving when he arrived and B) there wasn’t much time left before the Mavericks officially packed it in and stopped trying. Noel is a defensive terror and a pick-and-roll difference maker on both ends of the floor. When Noel went off the floor after he came to Dallas, the Mavs net rating tumbled to minus 7.8.
This is a small sample of some of things Noel can do at 23 years old.
Nerlens Noel covered a ton of ground to make this block. pic.twitter.com/jEnK6SN8oX— Bobby Karalla (@bobbykaralla) March 26, 2017
Noel is really, really good.
4. Noel will get those opportunities he’s lacked this upcoming season, with a clean bill of health and a full training camp. Unless he gets hurt, which again, don’t trade for the injury prone dude if you know he can’t make it a full season.
Duh. Noel is going to blow it up this year.
5. Regardless of how right the Mavericks think they are, a wedge has been driven between them and Noel. This is a thing now and it doesn’t help.
This is a big one. It doesn’t matter what PR-friendly answers he puts out through the media, Noel didn’t take the qualifying offer to do the Mavericks any favors to make sure they properly know he’s a $17 million a year player. He did it to get the max, because he feels he’s a max-level player. This is where the Mavericks drive me insane. They always feel they’re the smartest in the room, even when the ship is sinking and the water is rising above their heads. Remember when they were better off without Deron Williams, Dwight Howard and every other star free agent they failed to bring in? Remember when the Mavericks thought they were better off without Tyson Chandler? (twice). Gee, these Mavericks are so smart, no wonder they’ve enjoyed so much success like one 50-win season and zero playoff series wins since 2011. THEY’RE PRACTICALLY GENIUSES.
If the choices ultimately are sign Noel to a max or sign him to a qualifying offer and increase the risk of losing him, sign him to the max. He’s good and that’s the price you have to pay to keep young talent in the NBA. Otto Porter isn’t worth the max. Gordon Hayward wasn’t worth the deal the Jazz had to match a few years ago. Just suck it up and appease a core building block that not only fits in perfectly with your other building blocks (Harrison Barnes, Dennis Smith Jr) but will also greatly improve the development of those building blocks. Smith is going to have a much easier time learning the intricacies of the NBA pick and roll game if he has a lob partner like Noel for the next four years.
I don’t care if the Mavericks are being “smart.” I want good players. Sign and keep the good players. It’s not my money.
6. Noel can now “earn” his max deal and go to a team that won’t jack around with him, in his mind. In the NBA, the player is always right.
If a player is really good, they get paid. That’s how it works. If you don’t think Noel is good because he didn’t average 10 points per game or didn’t cross the threshold of whatever other arbitrary and archaic stat you wanted, go sniff farts somewhere else.
Now Noel will be unrestricted and free to sign with whatever team he wants to. A ton of leverage from the Mavs side is lost. While the market isn’t getting any better next summer as teams twiddle their thumbs in the timeout corner after handing out some albatross contracts in the spending bonanza of 2016, Noel should be a lot more desirable once he (likely) tears it up this season. Or how about this juicy theory since Noel now shares agents with LeBron James:
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
While there’s always a chance Noel returns since the Mavericks can offer him the most money, we’ve already seen the Mavericks shun free agents due to not properly valuing them in the first place. If Noel’s pride is hurt that the Mavericks wouldn’t pay up, that’s obviously a petty thing to do but that doesn’t make the Mavericks any better. It’s not your money anyway. I’d rather be dumb and have more good players than be the Mavericks’ version of smart and have fewer good players.
7. This is completely different from the Chandler Parsons situation because Noel hasn’t undergone two major knee surgeries in the last two years.
A lot of people jumped into my mentions saying the Mavericks know what they’re doing since they let Parsons walk and he couldn’t stay on the court in Memphis this past season. There’s a big difference though, because Parsons entered the 2016 offseason with two major surgeries in two years, and Noel enters this offseason with a relatively clean bill of health (well, as clean as it can be for a player like him).
There’s always the chance that the Mavericks find something in Noel’s medicals that makes them not want to pursue a long-term deal, but the Mavericks were willing to give him $17.5 per year for four years so what’s another six per going to do if Noel can’t play because he gets hurt. It’s sunk money no matter what. If you’re willing to pay that much for that long, you can’t be THAT concerned with his knees.
8. What does this look like to other free agents that the Mavericks were willing to overpay for Dwight Powell and not for Noel? Optics aren’t good.
Dwight Powell got almost $38 million, and he’s not even that great. Players notice things and for as much as the Mavericks pride themselves on being a great organization with great culture, they’ve taken way too many off-season Ls.
9. Even worse, Noel is a perfect fit for Barnes and Smith. The Mavericks will likely never draft someone as good as Noel in the next two to three years.
Noel is good and a good fit now. If he leaves after next season, the Mavericks will take another step back and hope to ... tank so they can draft someone like Noel and hope he’s just as good. What else are the Mavericks going to be using money for in the next four years anyway? Dirk will be retired, J.J. Barea, and Devin Harris will be gone soon. Come on now. A bird in the hand, etc., etc.
10. The only way this qualifying offer news is “good” is if Noel under performs or gets hurt. Which if anyone is rooting for that, pound dirt.
The absolute worst part of this for people who think Noel is good (AKA not crazy people) is that the “best” case scenario for the Mavericks to come out on top is if Noel either gets hurt or seriously under performs, therefore saving the Mavericks from a potential boondoggle.
That’s just a shitty way to look at things. Why can’t the best thing for the Mavericks be watching the continued growth of their exciting and talented core trio for the next four years? Is that so hard to ask?
11. If the Mavericks are using Noel’s injury/lack of production to cover up the fact they’re really wanting to not pay Noel so they can save money for DeMarcus Cousins next summer then just burn the planet to the ground.
I swear to god if this happens I am running off into the wood to become a feral man. We’ve seen the Mavs run off a quality starting big man twice in failed pursuits after superstar replacements, so this is a terrifying prospect.
OK, phew, I feel a tiny bit better now. Before we wrap this up, there is an obvious point I have to make — it appears Noel is no angel in this situation and he has been stubborn as hell with his max or nothing offer. That puts the Mavericks in a devil of a situation, and Noel is out of his mind to think that max or nothing is the right move for his career right now. He should have taken the 4-year, $70 million deal.
That’s where this all ends, in bitter frustration. Frustration that Noel is so thick-headed that he can’t recognize a good offer and just get it done. Frustration that the Mavericks are on the verge of blowing another key free agency. Frustration that Noel may go be an All-Star in another team’s uniform. Frustration that the Mavericks miraculously quick rebuild could take a turn for the worse and turn into a more slogging affair. Frustration that the Mavericks, faced with the choice of having a good player and less money or appearing smart, having more money and not having the good player, chose the same path they have since 2011 — a path we’re all still waiting for them to pay off.