Locking up center Nerlens Noel.
That’s the Dallas Mavericks’ top priority when NBA free agency officially gets underway at 11 p.m. Friday.
The Mavericks aren’t expected to chase the big names such as Blake Griffin and Steph Curry.
And, according to general manager Donnie Nelson, the organization feels good about the point guard position going forward with recently drafted Dennis Smith Jr., which would rule out any potential interest in guys such as Jrue Holiday.
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So expect the Mavericks to have a relatively quiet free agency. They landed a building block last off-season in forward Harrison Barnes, and added to the young core during the season (Noel) and in the draft (Smith).
The most a team other than Dallas can offer Noel is a four-year, $106.4 million deal. Dallas, meanwhile, could offer him a max contract of five years and $143.55 million.
“We like what we have with Dennis and Nerlens and Harrison as a super young core,” owner Mark Cuban said at Smith’s introductory news conference. “That young core is what we want to continue to build on and grow with and hopefully surprise a whole lot of people.
“We’re not out there looking, saying we have to go find something. I think Dennis is going to be able to come in and play and hopefully have an impact his first year. We don’t want to take anything away from that.”
With the addition of Smith, Cuban and the front office feel the Mavericks will return to the playoff mix. They blamed part of their 33-49 season on injuries.
Cuban said the good news coming off such a forgettable season is the organization got the ninth overall pick to land a talent such as Smith.
“I think we’re going to be a lot better,” Cuban said.
Cuban sounded as though Noel returning is almost a sure thing, and the Mavericks certainly hold the cards in that deal. Noel is a restricted free agent, meaning the Mavericks will have the option of matching any outside offers he might receive.
And the Mavericks appear to be committed to Noel after reaching a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers for him in February. They made the trade with thoughts of him becoming a long-term piece in their rebuilding process.
Noel, the sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft, has shown flashes of developing into one of the elite rim protectors in the league. He also contributed on the offensive end, averaging 8.5 points and shooting 57.5 percent from the field in 22 games (12 starts).
“He brings all the stuff that we love to have in a guy — a role presence, a defensive presence,” Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki said at his charity baseball game. “He’s got good hands. He’s athletic. He can run with the best of them.
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“Athletes are so important now in today’s game. You’ve got to go up and down and now we have one of the best athletes at the point guard and we have one at the five spot.”
Ensuring Noel remains part of the Mavericks’ mix is the top priority. But, as the Mavericks know all too well, free agency is a fluid process. Things are always subject to change.
But it’s a safe bet the Mavericks won’t be major players this time around.
Free agency hunt
The Dallas Mavericks won’t be big-game hunting in free agency because they need to take care of some in-house players. They do need some more size. The open market begins Saturday.
Forward/center Kelly Olynyk (7 feet). Restricted free agent from Boston. Averaged 9.5 points and 4.7 rebounds. Mavericks would have to pay for him, but not enough to break the bank.
Forward/center Mike Muscala (6-11). Unrestricted free agent from Atlanta. Averaged 4.8 points and 2.8 rebounds. Plays good defense. That alone makes him attractive.
Forward/center Jordan Hill (6-10). Unrestricted free agent from Minnesota. Seasoned veteran (eight years in league) who averaged 7.9 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Forward/guard C.J. Miles (6-6). Unrestricted free agent from Indiana. Dallas native who played at Skyline High School. The 30-year-old veteran averaged 9.8 points with the Pacers.
Forward Reggie Bullock (6-7). Restricted free agent with Detroit. Red flags with five-game suspension to start next season. But he’s young (26), can play and might need a fresh start.