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December 17, 2016

Brett Brown has day-after meeting with frustrated Nerlens Noel, ‘kept it more real’

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The morning after Nerlens Noel offered some pointed public criticism about the team’s frontcourt logjam, his coach had a meeting with him. And while Brett Brown freely admitted that the entire balancing act is “challenging,” he wants his fourth-year center to make the best of it as long as Noel is a Sixer.

“You help him along the way of whatever happens within Brian’s [Colangelo] side, the management side,” Brown said. “As this plays out, it’s important that he hold his head high, that I help him, that I continue to coach him and move him forward in a way that increases his development, that somehow, someway gets him a little bit better during the time that I’m with him.

“It’s just part of the landscape. And it’s part of I think my job to help him where it’s not all coach speak. It’s just ‘young man to someone who has been around for a while who I hope can share a few lessons.’”

That the conversation was meaningful was a viewpoint also shared by Noel.

“He kept it more real with me, so I respect him a little more for that,” Noel said.

Noel’s opinion on the matter at hand very likely isn’t going to change, though. Before the season, he made it clear that he believed a frontcourt rotation with himself, Jahlil Okafor, and Joel Embiid wasn’t going to work. And after the first game of the season in which all three of the young big men were healthy, Friday night’s 100-89 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, Noel was described as “a casualty” by Brown.

Noel definitely was the odd man out, logging eight minutes total and zero in the second half. Remember, this is a 22-year-old who finished third in rookie of the year voting just two seasons ago.

"I mean, I'm too good to be playing eight minutes,” Noel said after the game. “Nah, that's crazy, that's crazy, that's crazy. Need to figure this sh!t out. F#$% out of here."

It’s fair to say that when Noel has been available to the media (he had undergone surgery on his left knee right before the season started, rehabbing away from the team for about a month), he has been quick to make his voice heard.

While it wasn’t a total shock to some that Noel would make his displeasure known after the first game he played with Okafor and Noel, Brown was surprised.

“It did catch me a little off guard, as you stood back and somebody read them to me,” Brown said. “As I said, he’s highly competitive. He’s in a very unusual situation. The fact that it came out as soon as it did caught me off guard. We’ve discussed it, and I’ll be surprised if everybody’s not seeing how we all need to handle this better going forward.”

While still unhappy, Noel offered similar sentiments after Saturday afternoon’s practice in Camden.

“You might get emotional sometimes,” Noel said. “I’m human and I want to play basketball at the highest level, and that should be expected. So now I’m moving forward, taking it day-by-day, keep on improving, getting after it in practice, and building on things so when the time’s right, the time’s right.”

Brown is attempting to balance the playing time of three young players who the Sixers have a lot invested in at the same position. The situation has changed quite a bit from 2014-15, when Noel made the all-rookie team and played 30.8 minutes per game in 75 total games.

“As I said, he’s highly competitive. He’s in a very unusual situation. The fact that it came out as soon as it did caught me off guard."

At that point in time, Embiid was rehabbing (for the first time) and Okafor was playing for Duke. Noel, acquired in a trade during the 2013 NBA Draft, has been here the longest of the three. He’s also set to hit restricted free agency in the offseason.

“Like I said, he just has a lot on his plate,” Noel said. “No pointing fingers.”

“I speak with Nerlens right now just so holistically that this is a situation that we’re in, this is how we’re going to handle it,” Brown said. “Because I care for him, I’ve been with him for a long time. I take to Nerlens Noel. He grew up in the same part of the world I did. And this situation is complicated. And as the head coach it’s my job to manage that, whatever that might mean.”

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann