NBA free agency officially begins Friday at 6 p.m., and the rumors are starting to swirl around the Sixers' plans.
It's not exactly trading for James Harden, but as the Sixers clear out space in the frontcourt, one name has repeatedly surfaced: former Sam Hinkie draft pick Nerlens Noel.
The latest rumblings on the Noel front come from the Inquirer's Keith Pompey:
"Now, sources says, there’s a real chance Noel, 26, could reunite with the Sixers. Teams officially will be permitted to contact free agents or their agents at 6 p.m. Friday. Players will be allowed to sign free-agent deals at 12:01 p.m. Monday."
We'll see what happens, but it feels like the right people are hearing more and more things about Noel
And momentum has been building towards this move for quite some time.
Last month, ESPN's Tim McMahon reported that the Houston Rockets nearly traded for Noel under then-GM Daryl Morey's watch. With Morey now in Philadelphia, there's a chance he still likes Noel as a player, and sees a fit with the Sixers, particularly if Morey is able to move Al Horford and the team needs more big men.
Last week, Noel made a cryptic post on Facebook that had Sixers fans scrambling to decode what the veteran big man meant by "Can't wait to be back!" with a photo of him in a Sixers uniform. Did he mean in Philly? Did he just mean playing basketball again?
And then on Thursday the Sixers waived Norvel Pelle, an intriguing player who is very much in the same mold as Noel's game as a bouncy, athletic, defense-first big man who can run the floor. Noel is younger than Pelle, and brings more talent and more NBA experience to the table.
Morey addressed earlier this week what he's looking for in a backup center:
“I do think you like to have optionality in how you play behind Joel. I think Doc and his staff could get very creative with unique lineups where Ben (Simmons) is featured and we sort of build a system around him like I’ve done in the past and Doc’s done in the past. There’s a chance to play really unique, up-tempo, spacing, shooting lineups."
Noel had his best year since being traded by the Sixers in 2019-20, averaging 7.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game in 18.5 minutes per game with the Thunder. He shot a career-best 68.4% from the field, made a career-best 75.5% of his free throws, and averaged 1.5 blocks per game, his highest mark since his rookie season.
It's still not crystal clear, but there are certainly more than a few signs pointing towards Noel's return to Philadelphia.