clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Nerlens Noel blew it. What's next for his NBA career?

He turned down $70 million, only to walk away with a $4.1 million qualifying offer. Can he make that money up on his next NBA contract?

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Nerlens Noel signed his $4 million qualifying offer with the Mavericks on Saturday. Thus ends the Nerlens Noel restricted free agent saga.

The saga was boring and uneventful for the most part. The Mavericks smartly sat on their hands, reportedly making one substantial offer and pulling it when Noel responded with a request for the maximum allowable under NBA rules.

Unfortunately for Noel, other teams also sat on their hands. Without a market for his services at a price he could live with, Noel pursued the only flex left: He signed the qualifying offer.

This gives Dallas another year of Noel at a bargain basement price.

Having traded only second-round draft picks for him in the first place, the Mavericks will pay him roughly half the average NBA salary in 2017-18. While it will be another rebuilding season for Dallas, getting good players on steep discounts is always a smart thing to do. Though Noel won’t be a real trade asset — he can block any trade under league rules as a player on a one-year deal — he’s a blue-chip prospect who can play defense and has shown some flashes of potential.

Noel’s qualifying offer ended up even cheaper than normal for a former No. 6 pick. League rules set what are known as starter qualifications to adjust the size of qualifying offers. To meet starter qualifications, a player must start 41 games or play 2,000 minutes in the season prior to restricted free agency.

Noel did neither: He started 19 games in Philadelphia and Dallas combined and played just 1,047 minutes. As such, his qualifying offer is equal to that of the No. 15 pick, millions under what it would have been had he met the qualifications. The Mavericks didn’t really have a role in preventing Noel from reaching 2,000 minutes: He needed roughly 1,500 with a third of the season left upon arriving to Dallas, which is actually impossible. But Dallas did benefit from the shortfall.

What does Noel get out of accepting the qualifying offer?

Unrestricted free agency next season and his chance at a massive new contract.

Without the restricted tag, Noel should have an easier time maneuvering for a major contract. But the 2018 free agent market is expected to be quite tight given the number of high-end free agents and limited cap space. Noel may find tough sledding again.

Plus, Noel didn’t exactly squash all those worries about him upon arriving in Dallas last season. It remains to be seen whether Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle will feature him much this season after the offseason saga. Noel started only barely half of his games with Dallas last season, and while the Mavericks really don’t have other options at center, Carlisle could lean on tough love once more.

If Noel has another unproductive season, he might never see a contract as big as the one Dallas already offered, the one that Noel rejected right out of existence.

Noel’s experienced quite a bit of self-inflected instability; he’s had three different agents this season. It’s hard to build a strategy to maximize earnings at this difficult stage of a career when the adviser is changing every few months. Noel received bad advice somewhere along the way. It cost him this summer, and it might cost him again next year.

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Meanwhile, in the broader league view, this is just another bizarre restricted free agency episode in a summer full of them.

We had the Pistons rescind Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s qualifying offer, only for the Lakers to give him a super-sized $17 million contract for a single season. We’re still waiting for any sort of movement from JaMychal Green in Memphis, Nikola Mirotic in Chicago, Mason Plumlee in Denver, and Alex Len in Phoenix.

Having this many legitimate NBA players languishing in restricted free agency this late in the summer is highly unusual. The Grizzlies let important veterans go to save room for Green, yet haven’t signed him. The Nuggets traded a first-round pick and Jusuf Nurkic for Plumlee just months ago, but haven’t cut a deal. It’s bizarre!

Noel’s saga isn’t even over yet, though his restricted free agency is. Only next summer and beyond will we see who bet smartly this summer: Noel on himself, or the Mavericks on patience. Taking the qualifying offer is always an admirable flex. It shows faith in one’s own ability to succeed, which in itself is an important ingredient in success.

But Noel also can’t ignore that this flex came only after a calamitous campaign to take that which he hasn’t earned. By turning down a big offer, Noel gave himself no choice but to practically give away his services for one more year.

If he wants to blame someone for his pay cut, he needs to find a mirror.