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Why Nerlens Noel eating a hot dog at halftime turned into an actual controversy

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Noel might have been sending a message about his lack of playing time.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas Mavericks center Nerlens Noel became embroiled in a hot dog controversy this weekend, and it’s even more ridiculous than this sentence sounds.

The Mavericks blew out the Clippers on Saturday, but during halftime, Noel visited the media workroom and dining area to snag a hot dog. Noel was photographed grabbing one, and Rick Carlisle was asked about it after the game.

“I hear the hot dogs are very good here,” Carlisle said in his postgame press conference.

Noel was the only Maverick who didn’t play on Saturday, despite the game being a blowout. But he made a hot dog joke after the game.

“I needed some energy for the second half,” he told SB Nation.

On Sunday, Noel apologized for not “being smarter” about his hot dog consumption. Carlisle joined his media appearance and even joked around with him, and the official Mavericks Twitter account posted the video:

I would imagine you have questions about this ridiculous story. Here’s my best shot at answering them.

Why is a halftime hot dog controversial?

I have never seen an NBA player in the media room at halftime. It’s rare to ever see a player in the media room; the only instance I can recall is Rudy Gobert once wandering in and eating a meal. At halftime, players would specifically have to go out of their way to find themselves at the media room.

Also, while calories are calories, a hot dog doesn’t seem like the healthiest option.

Why didn’t Noel send a ball boy?

That’s a good question. Maybe because ...

Noel was trying to send a message?

It seems that way. Noel hasn’t played since Nov. 22, and he hasn’t played more than 10 minutes since Nov. 4. Dallas traded for Noel last season and played him 22 minutes per game, but he’s averaging only 12 minutes in his 18 appearances this season.

You might recall that the Mavericks offered Noel a four-year, $70 million deal this summer. Noel wanted the max, and he refused the Mavericks offer. When no one gave him the max, Noel ended up taking the qualifying offer from Dallas — a one-year, $4.1 million deal that was the ultimate bet-on-himself move.

Now the Mavericks aren’t even giving Noel a chance to prove himself. His postgame quip proved that this might have been an elaborate stunt to show how much time he has on his hands.

How was the hot dog?

Noel told me it was “OK.” I haven’t had a halftime hot dog all season, but in the past, they usually range from “acceptable” to “I’m one bite in and already over this.” (I should note that the Mavericks pregame meal is one of the best in the league.)

Is Noel going to start playing again?

At this point, that seems unlikely. Noel has received four straight DNPs, and there doesn’t seem to be any good reason why that would change.

I wouldn’t put it past Carlisle to sub him in six minutes into Monday’s game. Yet even if Carlisle did that, I don’t believe Noel will be a rotation player for the Mavericks again.

What’s the resolution to this situation?

Noel can be traded on Dec. 15. Given the situation, there’s no real reason to keep him around after that.

Would Noel publicly request a trade?

Last season, Noel told the media that he was “too good to be playing eight minutes” after barely playing in Philadelphia’s crowded frontcourt.

However, his agent, Rich Paul — who he hired this summer after firing Happy Walters — has him coached well this season. In fact, Noel did a one-on-one interview with Fansided’s The Smoking Cuban on Sunday, and his answers are as guarded as they can be. While Noel might request a trade privately, that doesn’t really seem necessary. If both sides want to move on, then neither side would have anything to gain by publicly requesting one.

Noel would lose his Bird Rights if traded. At this point, I’m not sure if that matters — he can’t earn any contract without actually playing, and the Mavericks clearly don’t feel indebted to him.

Why did Noel lose minutes?

This is the most important question and it lacks a clear answer. Despite their hot dog banter on Sunday, Carlisle doesn’t seem to like Noel much. It’s hard to see the situation in any other light.

Noel’s best game was his first — he scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, along with three blocks but was benched during the final few minutes of the game anyway. Since then, Noel has seen his minutes decrease and his productivity fall as well.

The Mavericks don’t see Noel as a hard worker, according to one report. Noel has still been the most productive center on the Mavericks roster — nothing has changed from the player he was last year — but if he and the head coach can’t get along, it doesn’t matter.

How does this reflect on Carlisle?

The Mavericks have overachieved year after year because of Carlisle’s genius. I still contend that the 2014 first-round series against the San Antonio Spurs — where the eighth-seeded Mavericks pushed the eventual champions to seven games — was one of the most brilliant coaching performances I’ve ever seen.

Carlisle has quirks. He prefers a certain type of reliable veteran in his rotations, and mistake-prone players quickly lose his trust. In the Noel situation, it appears that has happened.

But though Carlisle’s process can sometimes be questioned, his results cannot. I’m not sure the Noel situation is a good look for Carlisle, but ultimately, the Mavericks will side with him over any player because it’s ultimately worth it to them.

What if Noel had taken that four-year deal?

Well, this entire situation might be 70 million times more awkward.

What’s the worst thing about this?

Noel said his preferred hot dog topping is relish only. No ketchup? No mustard? What the hell? Maybe that’s why he isn’t playing.