I was taking a nap Saturday. My dog tapped me awake with her paw like she was hired to break the news herself. I rolled over and saw the notification on my phone, plus 19 emails from Mavs Moneyball staff. It’s funny what can happen during a 30 minute midday nap.
Let’s first get this out of the way: there are no winners in the Nerlens Noel situation. Both sides needed to find ways to get a long term deal done, and both sides sat on their hands. We may never get the full details of what transpired since July 1, but it’s clear that there was major disagreement on the current value of Nerlens Noel as a Maverick.
With the surprise performance of Harrison Barnes last season, trading for Nerlens Noel for pocket change and spare parts, and the drafting of Dennis Smith Jr., there was a sense this summer that the Mavericks were laying the foundation for a solid rebuild. Now for the last several days the Mavericks future foundation seems full of potential drama. A Jenga tower with a few lower blocks pulled out.
And in our world full of social media, it’s impossible to look at player activity and not read in to it:
So if you’re not here for a full season of over-analyzing and dissecting every interaction Nerlens Noel has with his teammates and the organization - if you’re not here for the contract tug of war, it might be time to put on your earmuffs.
What we can say definitively is that Rick Carlisle and his band of veterans will NOT be here for the drama. And that’s why you want them around. As an owner or GM, when tasked with laying the groundwork for the next era, you look for leaders to influence the locker room, every practice and every game. The Mavericks have that in the veteran core of Dirk Nowitzki, Wesley Matthews, JJ Barea and Devin Harris.
As a team rebuilds, the balancing act involves acquiring young potential stars (Dennis Smith Jr. & maybe Nerlens Noel), reliable long term contributors (Harrison Barnes & Seth Curry* next summer pending), exciting developmental projects (Yogi Ferrell, Dorian Finney-Smith, Johnathan Motley), and then putting them under the leadership of proven vets who can teach them what it is to be a professional basketball player day in and day out. And every organization values that differently.
Each team must determine how much money, and how many roster spots to use on vets. You can define a veteran player any number of ways - here we’ll simply define it as players 30 or older (or turning 30 during the upcoming season). The teams listed are the projected bottom five of each conference, from the NBA Summer Forecast by ESPN.
NBA Value on Veterans - Ranked by $$$
Memphis Grizzlies - 4 players 30+ ($59.2 mil)
Sacramento Kings - 4 players 30+ ($48.3 mil)
Los Angeles Lakers - 3 players 30+ ($47.3 mil)
New York Knicks - 4 players 30+ ($46.9 mil)
Brooklyn Nets - 3 players 30+ ($39.2 mil)
Dallas Mavericks - 6 players 30+* ($38.5 mil)
Chicago Bulls - 2 players 30+ ($37.6 mil)
Phoenix Suns - 3 players 30+ ($24.5 mil)
Atlanta Hawks - 2 players 30+ ($12.6 mil)
Orlando Magic - 3 players 30+ ($11.7 mil)
*Salah Mejri is included in this group because of his age, though an outlier as he is entering his third season in the NBA.
For those curious: teams have, on average, 3.5 players 30 or older (or turning 30 midseason) league wide. Golden State, Cleveland, and Houston have the most with seven each. Portland has the least with zero.
It’s not typical for a rebuilding team to use a third of their roster spots on older players, but the Mavs managed to have the most, and somehow be sixth in spending, from this group. Not too bad, considering nearly half of that money is allotted for Wesley Matthews.
***This is the moment where I mention that Dwight Powell (non-vet) and Josh McRoberts are the third and fourth highest paid Mavericks for the upcoming season. So...take that as you will.***
It was evident early this summer that the Mavericks were locked in and committed to the vets already on the roster. Though there seemed to be opportunity, due to trade value or contract flexibility, for the Mavericks to be active with some of these players, for the most part they stood their ground for better or worse. Does using that many spots on these players (like Josh McRoberts and Salah Mejri) help the long term on-court product, when two of those spots could be used developing younger talent? That remains to be seen.
None of us could have anticipated this Nerlens Noel snag. And I can’t imagine Mark Cuban & Co. predicted it either. But the value of veteran influence skyrocketed this week. It’s hard to imagine any of these vets allowing the locker room or team culture to be effected by this potential drama.
Heading in to next summer, two of the six will be unrestricted free agents (Devin Harris & Josh McRoberts), one will be a restricted free agent (Salah Mejri), and there is a team option on Dirk Nowitzki. JJ Barea is signed through 2019, and Wesley Matthews has a player option next summer. It’s possible that some of them will be on the move if another opportunity, like the midseason trade for Noel, pops up. But for now, the Mavericks will lean on these players to lead any success on the floor, and maybe more importantly, the success off the floor.