Shortly after Philadelphia 76ers president and general manager Bryan Colangelo said he is not actively shopping any of his players, Sixers center Nerlens Noel openly wondered how he, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid can co-exist as the team’s three big men.
“I don’t see a way of it working,” the former University of Kentucky star said Monday, one day before the Sixers’ first full workout in their new practice facility along the New Jersey riverfront across from Philadelphia. “It’s just a logjam.
“You’ve got three talented centers that can play 30-plus minutes a night and three centers can’t play 30 minutes a night. That’s that. Things need to be situated,” Noel said. “Obviously, somebody’s got to be moved around. It’s a tough situation, but I can only say so much because I have no say and no power.”
Noel, 22, has averaged 10.5 points and 8.1 rebounds in his first two seasons in Philadelphia while watching the Sixers go 18-64 as a rookie and 10-72 last season. But with 20-year-old Okafor (17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds per game last season) returning for his second NBA season and Embiid (right foot surgery) healthy for the first time since being drafted by the in 2014, the Sixers have an overabundance of bigs and Colangelo says that is just fine with him.
“We have a lot of time for things to work out,” said Colangelo, who took over for former general manager Sam Hinkie in April. “Some of it will happen in the preseason, some of it will happen in the regular season. I don’t feel like we’re up against any kind of deadline of any sort.”
Noel is in the final year of his four-year rookie contract and the Sixers have until Oct. 31 to extend his deal. Colangelo acknowledged that until the Sixers have a better understanding of how many minutes Embiid will be able to play — there is a chance he will not play on consecutive nights to start the season — they will be hesitant to move one of their centers.
“We’re thrilled to be in the situation we’re in and have that depth,” Colangelo said.
Sixers veteran Elton Brand said he expects the three-man battle between Okafor, Embiid and Noel to be a “bloodbath,” but Noel questioned whether any good could come from the Sixers’ wait-and-see approach.
“Wait and see? I can’t say I do understand that,” Noel said. “I just don’t think it makes too much sense to come into the season with such a heavy lineup at the center position, I don’t know what there is to wait and see.”
Regardless, the Sixers are hoping that with first overall pick Ben Simmons and a healthy Embiid (third overall in 2014), they can improve significantly on their 10-win season, which began with 17 straight losses last year.
“One of the biggest things we’ve talked about is changing the mindset of the team from one that was almost accepting of losing,” Colangelo said. “Even though they were playing hard they weren’t winning. It was a losing culture and hopefully we take a step forward toward winning.”
Sixers fourth-year guard Hollis Thompson certainly hopes so.
“I think for the past few years we’ve been building something,” he said, “and now I feel we’re right on the hump and we want to go after it.”