Center Nerlens Noel likely to come off the bench for Mavericks

DALLAS -- Center Nerlens Noel, who signed a one-year qualifying offer worth a fraction of the four-year, $70 million offer he declined early in restricted free agency, will probably have to prove his worth coming off the bench for the Dallas Mavericks.

Coach Rick Carlisle informed Noel and agent Rich Paul over the weekend that he was leaning toward starting Dirk Nowitzki, the longtime face of the franchise entering his 20th season, at center and using Noel as a reserve.

"I basically said to them that I'm not sure that he's going to start," Carlisle said during the Mavs' media day Monday. "At this point in time, Dirk at the 5 position is probably the best scenario for Dirk and for our team, and I just don't think that Dirk is a guy that's going to come off the bench as long as I'm here. So there's a very good chance that Nerlens will come off the bench. Look, he said he's good with it."

Asked about the reserve role, Noel said: "I'm really locked into having a great year no matter what. Just keep it simple."

Noel, who started 12 of the 22 games he played for the Mavs last season after being acquired in a trade-deadline deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, signed the one-year qualifying offer for $4.1 million in late August after changing agents from Happy Walters to Paul. Dallas originally opened negotiations with a four-year, $70 million offer, but sources told ESPN that owner Mark Cuban pulled the offer from the table after Noel requested a maximum contract.

"I give Rich Paul a lot of credit: He's a no-nonsense guy," Carlisle said. "When Nerlens switched over to him, Rich had him sign a qualifying offer and it was pretty clear. It's time to go prove it. I love that. Nerlens is ready. He's motivated."

Noel, 23, will be an unrestricted free agent next summer. He said he has "no hard feelings" about negotiations and will separate business from basketball this season.

"I do my best to keep it simple," said Noel, who has career averages of 10.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. "I've gone through a lot of things in this league in my first three or four years. I've been able to just really make it simple and just go out there and play basketball, and everything figures itself out. I play for the love of the game, so that makes it that much easier."

Noel said he has "never been so excited to play basketball in my life," citing the veterans in the Mavs' locker room, Carlisle's expertise, and the potential of rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. However, he stopped short of saying that he hoped for a long-term future with the Mavs.

"I love the city of Dallas," Noel said. "I do, but we all know what goes on in this business."

Sources said Noel did not join his teammates in informal workouts until Thursday, well after most of the Mavs. Noel spent most of the summer training in Los Angeles, but sources said he did not participate in a voluntary minicamp that most of the Mavs attended in L.A. the week after he signed the qualifying offer.

"It's his kind of thing in the summer, but he's here now," Nowitzki said. "We want to make it work. He wants to make it work. He knows that he's going to be a free agent next summer, so I'm sure he's going to look to hopefully have a good season and stay healthy."

Cuban is not harping on the contentious negotiations, hoping that Noel will be the defensive presence and pick-and-roll finisher the Mavs envisioned when they acquired him from the 76ers.

"It's in Nerlens' control," Cuban said. "Rick will make decisions on who plays and all that kind of stuff, but we want Nerlens to play as hard as he can and impact the game like we know that he can, and then we'll take it from there."