Dallas Mavericks’ center Nerlens Noel is playing for a new contract following his decision to turn down the Mavs’ extension offer and instead accept a qualifying offer worth around $4 million. The former Kentucky Wildcats standout is hoping a big statistical year will improve his stock for his impending free agency.

Unfortunately for Noel, that wasn’t the case for him through the first three games of the season. After losing his spot in the starting lineup, Noel opened his 2017-18 NBA season campaign on a positive note with a double-double game (16 points on 6-of-6 FG shooting and 11 rebounds) in a losing effort to the Atlanta Hawks, 117-111.

Mavs head coach Rick Carlisle was impressed by Noel’s strong season debut that he decided to start the young big man in the team’s next game against the Sacramento Kings. Noel played 27 minutes in that game, finishing with seven points on 3-of-3 FG shooting with six rebounds and three steals. He then followed it up with a sub-par four-point, five-rebound output in another loss to the Houston Rockets on Saturday.

Noel’s trade availability

Finding consistent playing time for Noel is going to be a challenge for Carlisle all season long. There’s no doubt that Noel is hungry for more minutes on the floor, but the front-line situation in Dallas requires him to earn each precious second with consistent play.

With unrestricted free agency looming in the picture, Noel’s name is expected to dominate the trade chatters leading up to the mid-season trade deadline in February. Despite Noel’s fluctuating numbers, teams still consider the big man an intriguing trade target at a reasonable price because of his upside, particularly on defense.

Julius Randle’s dilemma

Another former Kentucky product could also be on the move this season because of minimal playing time on his current team. Randle changed his game and body in the offseason to adapt Luke Walton’s run-and-gun offense. The former No.7 overall pick even put up a solid preseason run, but his efforts were apparently not enough to earn a spot on the Lakers first five.

In the post-game interview following the Lakers’ loss to the L.A Clippers on Thursday, Walton admitted that Randle was frustrated to learn the Larry Nance Jr. replaced him in the starting lineup. Worse, rookie Kyle Kuzma is also getting significant playing time at the four spot, leaving Randle in an odd spot.

At 22, Randle will still command interest from several teams looking for depth at power forward. The Lakers big man is also playing in the final year of his rookie deal, making him a lot more enticing trade target. Acquiring Randle in exchange for a serviceable veteran or a late-round pick is a low-risk, high-reward gambit for any team because of the player’s restricted free agency.