Nerlens Noel wore a Boston Red Sox cap, but everything he said Thursday while addressing reporters for the last time this season strongly indicated that his NBA heart is in Dallas.

That is important because Noel, who turned 23 on Monday, is eligible to become a restricted free agent this summer.

He is the only player on Dallas' season-ending roster who is neither under contract next season, nor entering a contract option year that the Mavericks control.

"I love Dallas," said the 6-11, 220-pound center, who was acquired from Philadelphia on Feb. 23. "In my short time here, I've really enjoyed it. With the pieces that we have, and the opportunities we'll be seeing in the near-future, I think there's a lot to be excited for."

It's not surprising that Noel sees himself as part of the Mavericks' future, but the organization no doubt likes hearing it.

As coach Rick Carlisle said Thursday, Noel is "a guy that we've got to get signed." After all, Carlisle noted, Dallas traded former first-round pick Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut and two second-round picks for Noel.

Allowing him to walk to another team would be bad business. Dallas can retain Noel by signing him or extending him a qualifying offer before June 30 and matching any offer sheet he signs with another team.