December 19, 2016
At one point on Monday afternoon, Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo was asked point blank what his position on disgruntled center Nerlens Noel is.
“He is a young, talented prospect that we are trying to determine whether or not he’s a fit for this roster,” Colangelo said.
And then he kept going.
“And 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 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.”
All of that is true — Noel’s play in his first two NBA seasons earns him a certain level of respect, while he also hasn’t been very accommodating in his third year — but what has been questionable is how the Sixers are determining Noel’s place on the roster moving forward. According to Colangelo, the Kentucky product currently finds himself as the odd man out of the frontcourt rotation because, unlike Jahlil Okafor, he didn’t show up on time this season.
And unlike the manner in which Brett Brown was interpreted on Sunday, Colangelo said that Noel sitting out games could end up as only a temporary arrangement.
“This is not a benching”, Colangelo said. “This just a moment of realization that ‘Wow, we 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 as respect to timing or number of games. Everything changes.”
What probably won’t change without any action is that the Sixers have four traditional centers on the roster, three of which they invested high draft picks in and one that has proven to be an NBA-caliber big man in Richaun Holmes. What very well could change is the addition of Ben Simmons into the fold, giving the Sixers three power forwards to go along with those four centers.
Unless there’s an injury, it’s only getting more crowded. And if Noel takes all of Okafor’s minutes for a stretch in a few weeks, won’t that just give the Sixers two unhappy young big guys as opposed to one?
“This is not a benching. This just a moment of realization that ‘Wow, we got a lot of talent on this team’ and not everybody can play. At some point you will see him out on the court."
So on one hand, Colangelo spent Monday walking back some of Brown’s comments. What was reinforced is that the Sixers aren’t happy with Noel’s participation level this summer and during the season (“Richaun has been here from Day 1,” Brown said, contrasting Noel with Holmes, another big man losing minutes).
Colangelo said that Noel did work out individually with Sixers coaches during the offseason, but he noticeably wasn’t part of team activities in the summer (specifically, showing up at summer league) along with Embiid and Okafor.
During the season, when Noel has been present in Philly, he has expressed his displeasure on multiple occasions, most recently after Friday night’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. If he was fishing for a trade by making those comments, Colangelo said that course of action hasn’t been productive.
“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. They start to worry about attitude and other things.”
Colangelo also agreed with Brown’s comments that it will be a challenge to keep all three big men on the roster throughout the season, calling them "spot-on" at one point. He also said that the Sixers won’t make a trade just to relieve the logjam.
“I’ve always said I don’t feel like we’re compelled to make a deal just to make a deal,” Colangelo said. “I know everyone’s lining up ready to criticize whatever deal is made with Nerlens but the reality is there’s either a market there or there’s not, there’s either a fit or there’s not, and we’re still in the processes of evaluating all of that.”
There was supposedly a market in the summer, though, and therein lies the difference between Noel and the team: One has given a consistent message and the other hasn’t.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann