Personally, those who run the Philadelphia 76ers appear to be not all that happy with some of the decisions Nerlens Noel has made of late, particularly his staying away from the team during the offseason as he conducted his own workouts — both with his personal trainers and with those on the Sixers staff — and his penchant for professing to the media his displeasure with the organization.
Professionally, however, the team still hasn’t decided on the 6-11, 232-pounder’s future. Though it was announced Sunday that Noel would be out of the rotation for the foreseeable future, General Manager Bryan Colangelo explained Monday that the reasoning is quite simple: Noel needs time to work on his game, now that he is fully recovered from early-season knee surgery and a sprained ankle suffered Dec. 11 at Detroit, and this is a really good part of the schedule for Coach Brett Brown to view the tandem of Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor on the floor. And since it is the first time all season that Embiid, Okafor, Noel and Richaun Holmes — all centers — are healthy, there simply isn’t room for everyone. So Noel, for now, will be relegated to being a reluctant cheerleader. Not benched, not punished, not actively on the trading block, according to the GM, but readying himself for minutes, whenever they might come.
During his almost one hour with the media Monday, Colangelo hit on a variety of topics, but most of the back-and-forth centered on Noel. The general manager insisted that this was not a black-and-white situation, as I suggested earlier Monday, but rather an ongoing evaluation process not only of Noel, but of everyone on the roster.
While Colangelo insisted that Noel will get his chance at some point to showcase his skills again while still a Sixer, some carefully worded phrases made you wonder.
“He is a young, talented prospect that we are trying to determine whether or not he’s a fit for this roster,” Colangelo said of the team’s sixth overall pick in 2013. “And further, I would say, given that he has been unavailable for any sort of evaluation throughout the summer and unavailable early in the season because of a surgical procedure that kept him out, and now made available for the first time, it’s like starting at ground zero, as far as his opportunity to break in. But because of his talent, because of his earned respect, with respect with what he’s already accomplished, we need to now determine if some of that is going to translate to us moving forward as a unit.”
Maybe the team will view Okafor the same way in the not-too-distant future, if it decides, as Colangelo hinted, Noel sees more time with Embiid, the foundation of this rebuild.
“This is the first time we will see him play with Joel Embiid, whenever that happens, whether that’s next week or a month from now,” Colangelo said. “At some point, I’m sure we’ll be able to evaluate that. We’ll be able to see if he’s able to maintain his health. Now it appears that the ankle that he tweaked the other day is OK, and it clearly is the case that his knee is 100 percent healthy. Now we’re at a point where we can officially open up the evaluation period with respect to Nerlens.”
Hear that, general managers around the league? Noel is healthy, ready to get back in basketball shape and returning to an NBA court near you not too long from now.
Having played all of 18 minutes, 25 seconds this season because of the injuries, you wouldn’t expect Noel to possess the right to gripe about how this situation is being handled. And to his credit, he said all the right things Sunday after it was revealed he was being sat. But his “I’m too good to play eight minutes,” statement after Friday’s loss to the Lakers most likely didn’t sit well with the higher-ups and made it easier for them to tell Noel they were going to take longer looks at other combinations, particularly Embiid-Okafor.
“The stuff that came out in terms of discussion about wanting to be traded, I can’t say that was the best course of action by him to take,” Colangelo said of Noel’s media-day statements in September. “In fact, I would say it was ill-advised. It was ill-advised, not only for his own value, but probably for our ability to have him involved in a deal. That’s never worked, in my estimation, for a player to voice that kind of concern, because then people start looking at and questioning other things outside of health and play and other things. They start to wonder about attitude and other things.
“At this point, I think in order for us to fairly evaluate Nerlens and for Nerlens to be fairly evaluated, he needs to show that he’s healthy and he’s professional and that he’s got a good attitude towards everything that’s going on. That may lead to, ultimately, something that would lead to a move. But, this is not just about Nerlens Noel. This is about an entire roster that we’re looking to make better. Certainly, as I’ve said before, we’re not going to make a bad deal. And expression of displeasure by an individual player is not going to move the needle, not going to turn us to do something that doesn’t fit with this organization’s longer term objectives.”
Colangelo also spoke of the excitement of a Ben Simmons debut, though he gave no timetable. He did say that, once Simmons is on the floor, the style of play will be up-tempo, with plenty of running. That would seem to be right up Noel’s alley. But who knows whether he’ll still be here, or if he is, whether he’ll see any time.
While it’s all still quite a puzzle that needs solving, Colangelo correctly pointed out that it’s a nice problem to have, with a bevy of talented centers. After all, just think of the players Brown has had to juggle in the past.