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February 05, 2023

NBA trade rumors: Atlanta interested in Thybulle, Sixers inquire on Detroit's Nerlens Noel

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Sixers-Pistons-Matisse-Thybulle_012821_Kate_Frese77.jpg Kate Frese/For PhillyVoice

Matisse Thybulle is reportedly heading to Portland.

Another day, another set of rumors for the Sixers in the trade market. As neither is a big deal on its own, we're doing a two-for-one special on Sunday morning, addressing the latest on Matisse Thybulle and old Sixers friend Nerlens Noel.

First, a check-in with Marc Stein over at Substack, who has yet another potential Thybulle destination:

Sources say that Atlanta has joined Sacramento as a confirmed suitor for Philadelphia's Matisse Thybulle. I don’t know that the Hawks will be the ultimate landing spot, but I've been advised that the prospect of Thybulle getting traded before Thursday's buzzer is very real. [Stein Line]

You've heard the same story from me about seven times at this point, but a quick refresher: Thybulle is arguably their biggest swing piece at the deadline. Including Thybulle in a trade is probably their only path to adding a real-deal contributor without sacrificing one of the bigger rotation players, but the trick is finding a team who wants Thybulle to help them win now while giving something back to the Sixers that helps Philadelphia improve immediately. That's going to be tough to pull off for several different reasons, and it's why I tend to lean toward Thybulle staying in Philly past the deadline.

(For example, Jarred Vanderbilt popped up as a high-level target for Philadelphia on Saturday, and while there is real interest on the Sixers' part, my understanding is that Utah is setting a high price on all of their guys, and Philly is trying to downplay the likelihood of pulling off a move for Vanderbilt or any of the other Jazz vets at this time. I'm inclined to believe that's all true — Daryl Morey is on record as saying Danny Ainge is the toughest negotiator in the league.)

Atlanta might be more inclined to give up something/someone good for Thybulle as a result of their strange season to date. After a big trade for Dejounte Murray in the offseason, the Hawks have stumbled and bumbled through their first 54 games, sitting at 27-27 and stuck in the middle of the play-in battle. A front office shake-up moved 34-year-old former NBA player Landry Fields into the lead decision-making chair for Atlanta, and the Hawks are by all accounts sort of a mess internally, with Nick Ressler (the 27-year-old son of Hawks owner Tony Ressler) reportedly growing in stature as an internal decisionmaker. 

That is the sort of team you want to be doing business with at the deadline, though looking through Atlanta's roster, it's not clear who would make sense as a target. Backup big man Onyeka Okongwu would not be a bad option as a backup to Joel Embiid, though he doesn't solve their quest for a bigger, rim-protecting presence, and that move would be more about upgrading the backup five spot. Go further down the list, and there are cheap-ish options for non-Thybulle trades (e.g. Justin Holiday), but trading Thybulle for somebody like Holiday would be foolishness.

If the Hawks somehow lost their minds and decided to trade De'Andre Hunter on the cheap after inking him to an extension in the fall, that would fit the two-way profile the Sixers are after on the wing, but that's a much more complicated trade than it looks on the surface. Hunter has a poison-pill provision in his contract, so his incoming trade value would be around $19 million, rather than the $9+ million cap hit he has for the Hawks. Almost certainly not happening.

Next, we pop over to see what James Edwards III has to say over at The Athletic, with the Sixers among a group of teams calling about a backup Pistons big man:

Per league sources, the Heat, Nuggets, Mavericks, Kings, 76ers and Celtics have recently called the Pistons and inquired about Noel. [The Athletic]

One day after the Sixers' G-League affiliate traded for the rights to Jahlil Okafor, we get a Nerlens Noel trade rumor. Time is a flat circle.

This is a prospect that would have excited me more a couple of years ago. Noel had an excellent 2020-21 season with the Knicks, playing a sizable role for New York while flashing some offensive improvements. Noel blocked 2.2 shots per game while starting half of the games for New York that year, and he played arguably his best defensive season ever, contributing to their only playoff run in the last decade.

Here's the main problem with Noel — he's making over $9 million this season, so bringing him on would either require trading more players/assets than he is probably worth or adding to your cap sheet to obtain a player who has tailed off since 2021 and is not in the midst of a great year. He has been mostly out of the rotation for a hapless Detroit team, playing just 11 minutes per game across 13 appearances as the Pistons bring their young players (e.g. Jalen Duren) along. And with Noel on a club option for next season, one that I presume will be declined, I'm of the mind that he's a better buyout hope than a trade target.

If they were to go after Noel, he would give you a taller, less foul-prone version of what Paul Reed gives you on defense, though I would argue that I trust Reed more as an offensive player than Noel. He has better hands at the very least, and Reed's finishing ability has been better than ever this year. Maybe Noel looks better with real ballhandling talent in Philly, though I don't think I'd be willing to pay a premium to find that out.

That's the latest from the rumor mill, we'll check back in soon.

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