The NBA's rumor mill spares no player, but that doesn't mean there aren't surprising combinations of player and team to show up every now and then. Whether because of an old rivalry or a tumultuous first tenure with that team, there are simply players we never expect to land with a specific franchise. Until recently, Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks was one such pairing. After everything that happened the last time he was there, it didn't seem especially likely that he'd ever don those blue uniforms ever again.
And yet, according to SNY's Ian Begley, the Mavericks and Pistons touched base on a possible Noel trade recently. In pure basketball terms, this makes sense. JaVale McGee has struggled as a rim-protector since arriving in Dallas. Jason Kidd doesn't seem to want to start the defensively-challenged Christian Wood, so Noel, a veteran on a reasonable contract, would seemingly be a viable stopgap. That is especially true as most of the brain trust that shared Noel's tenure in Dallas is gone.
Yet it is still surprising to hear given the unmitigated disaster of his first stint with the Mavericks. Noel was traded to Dallas at the 2017 deadline, and that offseason, the Mavericks offered him a $72 million deal. Noel would decline that deal, and eventually sue then-agent Rich Paul over it, and things spiraled from there. His playing time was so sporadic early in the season that, in a December game in which he was the only Maverick not to play, he infamously got a hot dog from the media dining room at halftime and quipped that he "needed some energy for the second half." An injury sidelined Noel from there, though he was suspended for five games late in the season due to violating the league's anti-drug policy. Unsurprisingly, he left Dallas for Oklahoma City after the season.
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So, yes, it is a bit surprising to see Noel linked to the Mavericks again, but Dallas has a bit of a history with surprising reunions. DeAndre Jordan infamously left the Mavericks at the altar in 2015, agreeing to sign with them during the opening days of free agency only to change his mind and return to the Clippers. In 2018, he signed in Dallas after all. Though the circumstances were less surprising, the Mavericks in general have a history of bringing back their own players. Devin Harris, Seth Curry, Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea are all notable players who left Dallas only to eventually return.
The NBA is a business. Teams are willing to explore any avenue towards improvement and player contracts, with rare exceptions for no-trade clauses, allow little room for players to dictate destinations. Ultimately a Noel-Dallas reunion might've felt unthinkable a few years ago, but once we saw LeBron James return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, virtually anything should've been considered possible.