As contract negotiations with the Dallas Mavericks appear to have hit a standstill, restricted free agent center Nerlens Noel has hired Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Basketball Insiders’ Mike Scotto.
Paul is best known as LeBron James’ agent, close friend, and business partner. But Paul is also known for his patience in brokering deals for his top players, a list that includes John Wall, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Eric Bledsoe, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
And as part of his negotiation tactics, Paul’s clients have never been afraid to hold out on signing a deal until teams cough up the desired amount of cash — sometimes even through training camp.
Noel has held out so far this offseason in hopes of landing a big contract.
The athletic, rim-protecting big man averaged 8.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 22 minutes per game for the Mavericks last year after the 76ers dealt him at midseason. But as a restricted free agent, Noel has garnered no maximum-contract interest from opposing teams. For that reason, Dallas hasn’t been keen on offering the 23-year-old big man a contract he won’t get elsewhere, especially when it can match any offer from another team.
Noel’s max contract would be worth around $146 million over five years from Dallas. That’s a lot of money to invest in a center who hasn’t stayed healthy enough to burst onto the scene as the star some tabbed him to be when Philly drafted him No. 6 overall in 2013. It is unknown what Dallas has offered Noel to date, but his former agent, Happy Walters, was “very disappointed with where things stand” and “still waiting on a serious offer” in mid July.
It’s also unclear what Noel’s number is, but even if it’s $20 million less than the max, that’s still a lot of money.
I've been told he wants around $20M and Mavs want to pay around $12-15M. They'll probably meet in the middle around $15-18M to start. https://t.co/IiFsYIzhXu— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) July 22, 2017
Nerlens Noel and the Mavericks are "not close" to a deal, several league sources tell me.— Tim Cato (@tim_cato) July 12, 2017
Fellow young center Steven Adams inked a four-year, $100 million deal with the Thunder last season. But Oklahoma City took advantage of the one-time cap spike to sign their bruiser. This year’s market provided teams no such luxury.
Regarldess, the Mavs need Noel just as much as he needs a big contract from them. Dallas doesn’t have another legitimate option at the center position. The only other true bigs on the Mavs’ roster are Salah Mejri and Jeff Withey, neither of whom have enjoyed much success in extended NBA play. As Dallas transitions to a fresh, young core of Harrison Barnes, Seth Curry, and Dennis Smith Jr., stability up front with a versatile big man is a necessity.
These contract negotiations were once expected to handle themselves, with multiple teams reportedly lining up to offer Noel big deals when free agency began.
But dancing with a restricted free agent can be a tricky, costly venture. The Nets offered Wizards RFA Otto Porter a max offer sheet this summer. Washington not only matched the offer, but took the maximum amount of time to do so. As a result, Brooklyn watched other prospective free agents sign elsewhere while their money was tied up in the Porter offer.
To avoid a similar fate, teams have declined to tie up their money in a large contract offer on Noel, putting the Mavs in the driver’s seat of contract negotiations.
Enter Rich Paul, who has a history of staying patient until he get exactly what he wants, when he wants it.
Paul will dig in to get his clients the deals they want, by hook or by crook
After proving his worth in the 2015 NBA Finals, Thompson wanted to get paid. As the Cavaliers took a blow after losing both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love to injury, the tenacious rebounder proved his worth on basketball’s biggest stage, cleaning the glass and outhustling opponents to push the Warriors to six games.
But despite his blue-collar performance, it appeared Cleveland wasn’t going to pay up. The Cavaliers had offered a five-year, $80 million contract while Thompson was looking for the then-$94 million max.
So Thompson did what any Rich Paul-managed client would do: he held out. He didn’t report for training camp and even missed a few preseason games, prompting LeBron to call for both sides to get a deal done. Eventually — on Oct. 22 — the Cavaliers signed Thompson to a five-year, $82 million deal, making him the league’s sixth-highest-paid power forward at equal salary to Draymond Green.
The year following Thompson’s deal, it was Smith’s turn to get paid. After all, he had turned himself into a legitimate two-way wing and was integral in bringing Cleveland its first-ever NBA championship in 2016.
But again, Cavaliers management hedged on paying its role players, especially one who would be 34 in the final year of the deal. The discrepancy in pay led to a contract holdout that led to more than three missed weeks of training camp.
Smith and Cleveland eventually agreed on a four-year, $57 million contract with $45 million guaranteed.
Bledsoe didn’t get the maximum contract he wanted out of the Suns, but in declining the team’s initial four-year, $48 million contract offer and waiting the market out, the Suns guard was able to pocket an additional $22 million in salary.
Bledsoe didn’t sign until late September, nearly missing the deadline to accept the qualifying offer that would have made him an unrestricted free agent in 2015. But because he did things the Rich Paul way, he ended up with a five-year, $70 million deal.
That’s a good chunk of change for a player who had just torn his right meniscus.
Caldwell-Pope was able to sign a sizable one-year deal worth $17.8 million with the Lakers because he bet on himself in restricted free agency and turned down a five-year, $80 million extension from the Pistons. Detroit later renounced their rights on him, unable to offer Pope the full $146 million max and unwilling to offer their personal max of $105 million.
Most players would have taken the long-term deal. Caldwell-Pope, with Paul’s blessing, refused to settle for that.
Noel is up next
One thing is certain when it comes to Rich Paul’s top clients: He’s not scared to play the waiting game. Noel has already held out much of the summer, and NBA training camp is around the corner.
Both Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith held out well into October before inking their respective deals. And if the Mavericks aren’t willing to give their young center the money he feels he deserves, Dallas could be entering training camp with either Salah Mejri or Jeff Withey as their starter.
And for a Rich Paul client, that’s exactly what you want.