Nerlens Noel isn't in Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle's good books lately, and he didn't help his cause Saturday. The forward snuck out of the locker room to grab a hot dog from the media area during halftime of the Mavericks' 108-82 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Noel hasn't appeared in a game for Dallas since Nov. 22 and he's not listed on the team's injury report. Sources have told NBC 5 Dallas' Newy Scruggs that the reason the big man hasn't seen the floor much recently is because Mavericks staff aren't happy with his poor work ethic. He claimed to have "needed some energy for the second half" when first asked about his craving for a hot dog. Carlisle responded by continuing to bench him.
Noel has fallen to third on the depth chart at center, with Carlisle electing to grant minutes to veteran Dirk Nowitzki and Salah Mejri instead. The 23-year-old is now averaging just 12.5 minutes per game, and is on pace for career lows in nearly every statistical category. More troubling for Noel, his eating habits were the topic of discussion at practice Sunday. Carlisle and Noel appear to be laughing off the incident, but there's clearly some sarcastic undertones.
Noel, once considered an elite prospect with the Philadelphia 76ers, has never really lived up to his potential since being dealt to the Mavericks at the trade deadline last year. As the summer market for restricted free agents dried up, he reluctantly signed his qualifying offer for $4.1 million with Dallas. The Mavericks viewed Noel as a potential starter replacement for Nowitzki once he retires, but he may now find himself vying for a job once he hits unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of this season.
"I'm doing everything I need to, staying in shape, continuing to work on my game and working on the little things," Noel told SportsDay. "It's frustrating at times. But I think I got laser focus right now for what I want to do and where I want to be. I'm anxious to play. When that comes, it comes."
The 6-17 Mavericks own the worst record in the Western Conference and are clearly entering a rebuilding phase. However, owner Mark Cuban definitely isn't the most patient executive in the NBA, and will be determined to improve his club as quickly as possible. It will be interesting to see if Noel is a part of those plans moving forward.