CHICAGO - There is a lot to like about Dallas Mavericks center-forward Nerlens Noel. He is 6-foot-11 long, rangy and nimble at 220 pounds, and he is only 23 years young.
So when he became a restricted free agent last July, Mavs owner Mark Cuban showed him plenty of love and offered a generous four-year contract extension worth $70 million. Considering Noel made only $14.3M in his first four years in the league, you'd think he would accept the deal in a heartbeat.
Well, he turned it down because he wanted a max contract, which is worth $146 million for five years, according to Dan Feldman of NBC Sports. Other teams can offer Noel no more than $109M for four years.
Instead of pocketing sure money and angle for a bigger payday in his next free agency cycle when he is only 26 and just approaching his athletic prime, Noel opted to sign a one-year qualifying offer worth a mere $4.1 million.
Just to be clear, when an NBA player is "eligible" for a max contract it only means he is qualified for such and it's not necessarily a guarantee that he gets it. Look, after a so-so dating life in high school, I assumed I was due for a hot girlfriend in college. Well, a White Castle poster of Carmi Martin on a horse turned out to be my prettiest "girlfriend," no disrespect to all the girls I loved.
Anyway, instead of making $213,414 a game this season, Noel is getting by with $50,000 per.
"I most definitely don't regret anything. I'm not nervous because I know my abilities. I know what I'm capable of. I know what I can get on the court any time, day or night, and do. It's simply getting the opportunity to show it," Noel told Bleacher Report in a December 2017 interview.
In other words, Noel bet on himself just like what Jimmy Butler did when he declined the Bulls offer of $44 million for four years in 2014 before ending up with a max deal worth $95 million for five years in July of 2015. During his one-year holdout, Butler averaged 20 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 65 games. He went on to become an All-Star while winning the Most Improved Player award.
Noel, on the other hand, has had an underwhelming 2017-18 season. He appeared in only 30 games, averaging a pedestrian 4.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and .07 blocks an outing. His only highlight was being a laughing stock around the league for going to the media dining room and eating a hotdog during halftime of a December 2 home clash against the L.A. Clippers in a game in which he was benched. His lowlight is being suspended by the NBA on Wednesday for violating the anti-drug policy.
So what's next for Noel?
Given how he was dropped out of coach Ric Carlisle's rotation, it's safe to say that Noel is done in Dallas. The good news is that he is an unrestricted free agent who can pursue a new a home wherever he chooses. The bad news is who will offer him a max deal of $146 million when he only has 9.3 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks to show in 223 career games?
What team will make that kind of monetary risk for a player whose history includes an ACL tear in college. a thumb surgery last December, and some questionable lapses in judgment in the pro ranks?
I was gonna say a good agent can help his cause. But which one? Last season alone, Nerlens hired and fired more agents than MI-6 before settling with LeBron James' childhood chum, Rich Paul, who is notorious for his hardball tactics.
The pursuit of happiness and the freedom to bulk up one's economic muscle are few of the many tenets that make America perhaps the greatest country in the world. Noel shouldn't be maligned for turning down $70 million because he thought he deserved more.
But how much is enough?
The No.6 pick in the 2013 draft, Noel was a standout at the blue blood program that is the University of Kentucky, where he was a one-and-done. As a pro negotiating his first big money deal, I'm sad to say that he may have made a decision that is one-and-dumb.
PLAYOFFS PICTURE. Seven teams in the Eastern Conference have already clinched playoff berths. The Milwaukee Bucks (42-36) remain at No. 8 and will miss the playoffs only if they lose all four of their remaining games and the ninth-ranked Detroit Pistons (37-40) will win all five of their games left.
The Toronto Raptors are No. 1 in the East at 55-22 while the Boston Celtics are No.2 at 53-24. But entering the April postseason, no team is hotter than the Philadelphia 76ers, who have won 11 straight, and no team is more dangerous than the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have won nine of their last 10.
It's a jungle out West where only three teams - the Rockets. Warriors and Blazers - have secured playoff berths. The 44-34 Pelicans, sliding fast and painfully, are trying to hold off the 43-35 Denver Nuggets and the 42-36 L.A. Clippers for the eighth and last spot.
At 63-15, the Rockets are formidable, but when healthy I still see the Warriors going to the NBA Finals. I'm no Houston hater, I simply pick the Warriors because I've already seen them do it - win a title - twice.
NBA championships are won in late June, not early April...