Dallas Mavericks center Nerlens Noel has decided to wait a year to try to cash in as a free agent.
Two people with knowledge of the agreement said Saturday that Noel accepted a $4.1 million qualifying offer for one year, essentially betting on himself that he can get something closer to a max contract as an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Noel’s decision as a restricted free agent means he can’t sign a long-term deal until after the upcoming season, one of the people told The Associated Press. Both spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the contract is pending NBA approval.
The Mavericks acquired the 23-year-old Noel at the trade deadline last season when they were out of contention and retooling to get younger. He averaged 8.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 22 games with Dallas, which missed the playoffs for just the second time in 17 seasons.
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The 6-foot-11 Noel hoped to get a max deal this year, with the likelihood that the Mavericks would have matched an offer sheet from another team after including young swingman Justin Anderson and a protected first-round draft pick in a deal with Philadelphia in February.
But Noel has never averaged more than 11.1 points or 8.1 rebounds in three seasons after missing his rookie year with a left knee injury suffered in his only season at Kentucky, where he was a shot-blocking phenom. The sixth overall pick in 2013 has career NBA averages of 10 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks.
The Mavericks envision Noel as an athletic rim protector who can also guard away from the basket, and they have hopes that he can become more of a scoring threat. He’s potentially part of a young core alongside 39-year-old Dirk Nowitzki after Dallas used a rare high draft pick on former North Carolina State point guard Dennis Smith Jr.
Dallas made another commitment to youth a year ago by signing Harrison Barnes to a max deal as a restricted free agent out of Golden State. Barnes became expendable when the Warriors reached a deal with Kevin Durant.
Barnes, who turned 25 in May, led the Mavericks at 19.2 points per game last season, and undrafted rookie Yogi Ferrell emerged as a viable point guard. The Mavericks see Ferrell as a better fit as a backup, which he is likely to be along with J.J. Barea and Devin Harris behind the newcomer Smith.
There are still questions about how Noel fits in the rotation because Barnes was most effective at small forward, which meant Nowitzki had to play center when they were on the floor together. But Smith’s arrival will make for an intriguing question of how good Noel can be as his pick-and-roll partner.
Mavs forward Dirk Nowitzki fires away from the outside, while center Nerlens Noel operates from the inside on Friday in Memphis