Update: After this story posted, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Noel has asked for time to re-evaluate their agreement:
Free agent Nerlens Noel has asked OKC for time to re-evaluate their earlier commitment on a new deal, and sides are continuing discussions, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 1, 2019
On what was expected to be a quiet night for the Oklahoma City Thunder, the opening of free agency brought a bit of eyebrow-raising news from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski: Nerlens Noel reached a deal to re-sign with the Thunder.
Nerlens Noel has agreed to a deal to return to the Thunder, league source tells ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) June 30, 2019
Reportedly, Wojnarowski later said on air that the deal was “two years and $13 million”, which doesn’t quite add up. The most OKC could sign Noel for, assuming it’s a two-year deal, is $11.7 million. That would require the Thunder using all of its taxpayer mid-level exception to resign last season’s backup center.
Sometimes numbers get a little loose, and it’s perfectly understandable during the tidal wave of information that crashed down when free agency officially opened.
There’s been no further confirmation of this reported deal yet. Since it’s information from the All Powerful Woj, it’s safe to assume he wasn’t misinformed or hoodwinked. But a subsequent post on Snapchat by Noel added a layer of confusion.
Nerlens Noel’s current Instagram story. pic.twitter.com/OJyCHVn4g9— Brett Dawson (@BDawsonWrites) July 1, 2019
The timing is interesting, but it’s premature to speculate what Noel meant in his cryptic snap.
Some fans wondered if this meant a sign-and-trade involving Noel was in the works. The problem is that he’d have limited earning ability via this route. Noel has limited Non-Bird rights on Noel, which means they could re-sign him using that tool for up to four years starting at 120% of his previous salary (or 120% of the minimum salary in this case). That all adds up to a starting salary of merely $2.4 million, which is likely less than Noel could fetch on the market.
If Noel is actually returning to OKC it naturally leads to questions about Steven Adams’ future, especially in light of chatter about the Thunder trying to trim down the payroll. It just so happens that the Celtics remain in the market for a center after losing Al Horford to the rival Sixers. With Clint Capela likely off the board - he was likely only available if Houston were to acquire Miami-bound Jimmy Butler - Adams makes some sense in Beantown.
Or, perhaps both OKC and Noel liked the fit and want him back again in his previous role? If so, it could indicate subsequent cost-cutting moves might follow.
And yet, we’re still making guesses against the backdrop of an unconfirmed report from one of the NBA’s best newsbreakers. Stay tuned. After all, we’re mere hours into free agency.