CAMDEN, N.J. — Nerlens Noel’s role on the Sixers has been in the spotlight given his outward frustration with the frontcourt logjam and Brett Brown's stating his decision to keep Noel out of the regular rotation on Sunday.
On Monday, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo addressed the issue surrounding Noel and the center's place on the team.
“The fact that Coach made it clear it’s not going to happen immediately is because of no other reason than we were just opening up the view of what it looked like with Jahlil (Okafor) and Joel (Embiid) on the court together,” Colangelo said. “It has nothing to do whatsoever with [Noel] saying something two days ago and acting frustrated that he’s been so-called benched.
“This is not a benching. This is just a moment of realization that we’ve got a lot of talent on this team and not everybody can play. At some point, you will see him out on the court. When that is, again, it doesn’t need to be black and white with respect to timing or number of games.”
Noel missed the first 23 games of the regular season after undergoing elective left knee surgery. He suffered a sprained ankle in his return on Dec. 11 and has played a total of 18 minutes over two games.
He's found himself the odd man out in the trio of starting-caliber centers upon his return. The Sixers have been experimenting with the starting duo of Embiid and Okafor and plan to continue doing so.
Brown said he did not want to “force feed” centers into the game plan, which left Noel and Richaun Holmes on the sidelines against the Nets. Noel believed the decision to keep him out of the regular rotation was made before he spoke out on Friday, and both Brown and Colangelo have echoed that.
Noel has been candid about his point of view on the roster. He expressed his concerns at the start of training camp, reiterated his opinion as he neared his return, and most recently spoke out with displeasure in his second game back.
Colangelo doesn't think Noel's vocalness of the situation is a positive when it comes to trade value.
"The stuff that came out subsequent to that 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. "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 and questioning other things outside of health and play and other things. They start to wonder about attitude and other things.
"But 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 that he’s professional and that he’s got a good attitude toward 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. I think that when I am having conversations."
Moving a big seems inevitable. Noel and Okafor were involved in trade buzz last season, and that was before the frontcourt became even more crowded with Embiid's return. Colangelo affirmed, “I will not make a bad deal for this organization,” pointing out this is the first time the Sixers have had all centers healthy for evaluation on the court.
“I can understand where he’s frustrated that he comes back and faces the same situation that he faced at the beginning of training camp,” Colangelo said of Noel. “But I don’t think at any point we’ve been in a position as an organization to actively pursue a trade of any of the centers given the fact that there was so much uncertainty with respect to their health and their availability.”
The Sixers plan to pair Noel with Embiid during the season and continue evaluating the Kentucky product now that he is healthy. How that will work into the future of the Sixers' organization remains to be seen.
“He is a young, talented prospect that we are trying to determine whether or not he’s a fit for this roster,” Colangelo said. “Further, I would say, given that he has been unavailable for any sort of evaluation throughout the summer, unavailable early in the season because of a surgical procedure that kept him out, and now made available for really the first time, it’s like starting at ground zero with respect to his opportunity to kind of break in as we speak.
“But, because of his talent, because of his earned respect with respect to what he’s already accomplished, we need to now determine whether or not some of that is going to translate to us moving forward as a unit.”
The crowded frontcourt situation is nothing new to the Sixers. They have been overloaded with a flurry of high lottery-pick centers in three straight drafts.
“We’re dealing with a logjam of players based on some decision making that was done prior to me being here,” Colangelo said. “Coach has talked about inheriting a center situation. You couple that with the uncertainty with regard to health of all three, it made it virtually impossible and there was virtually no ability for me to go out and actively even discuss a trade.”