Greed Is Good or Why Nerlens Noel Cost Himself $13 Million on a Summer Day

When it mattered most, Rich Paul could not save Nerlens Noel.  Previously, Paul had been a savior, rescuing Eric Bledsoe, Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith from their free agent fantasies of grandeur so he has plenty of experience at it. But he came into the game way too late to save Nerlens Noel and his $20 million per year dreams (more money than Kawhi Leonard will make this year so let’s be real, the tail was wagging the dog).

Every organization, and every family for that matter, needs an example and for the NBA and for the Dallas Mavericks, often injured center Nerlens Noel is it. Big. Bold. Underlined. That’s the chalkboard writing. Be careful. The man in the mirror may not be worth what he thinks he is.

An experienced businessman billionaire like Mark Cuban wasn’t going to to get annoyed by a slightly above average player with a limited resume in Nerlens Noel. Cuban is too sophisticated and strategic while Noel Is not.

Noel’s first agent, Happy Walters, was too “happy”- excuse the pun- to leak on Twitter that yes, Noel was offered a four year deal of $70 million, similar to Eric Bledsoe and Tristan Thompson. But Noel, who has done pretty much nothing in the NBA but get injured and grab a rebound here and there, had his sights on a beautiful number. So he said no thank you.

What Noel didn’t consider into the equation was his market value. Market determines price. It is not what you are worth that drives salaries into the stratosphere. It is what the league determines your value is by assessing a combination of factors: production, injuries, analytics, temperament. In other words, value is based on what the market thinks of you, the sum and not the parts. For Noel, that calculation was devastating.  He wasn’t more than average. He was always playing with one hand tied behind his back. That is why he and his dream went crashing downhill like a two year old on skates.

Because Noel wasn’t able to leverage what he wanted with what the Mavericks were willing to offer and he couldn’t drag another team in to muck up the process, Noel was forced to take the $4 million qualifying offer after Cuban pulled his original, very friendly $17 million. Noel didn’t have an ex to run back to and ask for forgiveness. So Noel had to do what we all have to do when faced with failure: exhale and do the thing you can’t stand.

Noel will play for $4 million. In ordinary people terms that is a lot of money but in NBA value he is making what an end of the bench player who gets limited playing time negotiates.

Noel will be paid less than what the sixth pick in the 2017 draft lottery (Jonathan Issac) will make.  Noel has 193 games under his belt to zero games for Issac.

Noel was the sixth pick in the 2013 draft. As for that draft. Five players have negotiated $20 million per year deals. Victor Oladipo. Otto Porter. C.J. McCollum. Steven Adams. Giannis Antetokounmpo. They have played more games than Noel and scored more points. The only front court player to get a huge payday, Steven Adams, has more rebounds than Noel. All five players have higher win shares.

2013 Draft 2017-18 Salary Games Played Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Win Shares
Victor Oladipo #2 $21,000,000 291 101 107 13.7
Otto Porter #3 $24,773,250 266 116 106 17.7
C.J.McCollum #10 $23,962,572 260 114 113 15.7
Steven Adams #12 $22,471,910 311 114 105 19.9
Giannis Antetokounmpo #15 $22,471,910 318 116 104 27.0
Nerlens Noel
drafted 6th, $4,187,600,  193 games, offensive rating 102, defensive rating 101, win shares 11.0

There is a gulf between what Noel wants and what he can earn by way of his talent. His teammate, Harrison Barnes, will make $23 million this year. Does Noel think he is equal to Barnes who last season averaged 19.2 points and a weak 5.0 rebounds? Barnes played 79 games and started 79 games. Noel played 51 games with an underwhelming 8.7 points and 5.8 rebounds. This is the new NBA. Centers who can’t stretch the floor and make threes are expendable. Rebounding isn’t as valued as it used to be which is why Noel is here, between a rock and his dreams, making $4 million and having to prove himself.

It can go either way for Noel. He may play with a chip on his shoulder and try to prove everyone wrong and the Mavs can, by default, extract the best out of his hunger if it is raw enough. For sure, the Mavs don’t care about Noel being the straw stirring the drink. It is all about Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes being the Mavs future. They are who the organization is invested in. Rick Carlisle won’t tolerate Noel pouting or ruining anything. If he tries to go rogue to prove a point, his point will be on the bench.

Which leads Noel here. A lose-lose situation. He’s not going to get enough touches with Barnes and Smith Jr. to make himself into a double-double player. The Mavericks have a lot of offense. By his own rigidity, he has created a narrative for the league to absorb. Money hungry and greedy, wanting superstar money for role player contribution.

The organization he plays for is structured and disciplined. The system matters, players have to conform. And so Noel is left having to pick up the pieces of glass shattered when he broke the damn thing himself. Blame him.

He is trying to save face by saying he’ll bet on himself. Sounds nice. It worked for Jimmy Butler. And Bradley Beal. Scorers. Defenders in the case of Butler. Necessary for offense. The best player and the second best player on their teams, respectively. Noel has a long list of names before he reaches his as the  best Mavs player.

And so the NBA is happy. A player lost their ego battle. NBA owners still have a role to play in determining who gets superstar money. The qualifying offer, though rarely used, works in extreme or, should I say, egregious cases.

But here are the facts. 41 NBA players will make $20 million in 2017-18. Four are centers. Stephen Adams and DeAndre Jordan are the only centers who don’t average 10 points a game for their career.  But in 2016-17 Adams played 80 games, Jordan played 81 games. It’s the template. Noel will have to play nearly a full slate of games and be an impact player. He is going to have to prove his worth as it pertains to what we know right now: Nerlens Noel wants to be paid like Serge Ibaka. (Ibaka was in the NBA Finals in 2012. Noel has never been in the playoffs).

If pressure he wanted, pressure is here.


photo via llananba