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July 26, 2017

Looking back at the Sixers’ decision to trade Nerlens Noel

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Last week, J.J. Redick released a mini-documentary that chronicled The Process between the free-agent marksman’s final days in Los Angeles and when he decided to accept the Sixers’ massive one-year offer on July 1st. It proved to be a pretty compelling piece of content.

Well, if Redick’s experience was cut down to a tidy 15 minutes, a similar production following our old friend Nerlens Noel’s restricted free agency with the Dallas Mavericks could theoretically stretch out to a full HBO miniseries. Noel and the Mavericks have not yet reached an agreement in the last week of July, and reading the comments from his agent in the Dallas Morning News, the two sides don’t sound particularly close.

"We're very disappointed with where things stand," a not-so-Happy Walters said. "Nerlens loves Dallas and spent June there working out, but we're still waiting on a serious offer."

The demand for Nerlens’ services simply isn’t where he had hoped. The agile rim protector wants a big-money, long-term deal, and with Brooklyn now taking on Allen Crabbe’s large salary one year later than they had hoped, Dallas is the only team that can realistically make that happen this offseason.

And the Mavs know it, which means they aren’t in a rush. If any offers do magically come in, they, of course, have the opportunity to match.

According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, there is now only one team that currently has over $15 million in cap space: your Philadelphia 76ers! Since we know that reunion isn’t happening anytime soon, the next most cap space belongs to the Phoenix Suns at $10.5 million. So much for multiple clubs offering Noel his max at four years and $106 million.

The cool market for Noel does jibe with the return that the Sixers received at the trade deadline (Justin Anderson and a fake first-round pick), but if we recall what Bryan Colangelo said at the time, teams around the NBA expected Noel to get paid this summer.

“It was more or less the case with every conversation that I had that the concern about what that contract might look like in the future was certainly a factor in people’s apprehension to move forward,” Colangelo said.

Looking back on the trade five months later and with the better part of an offseason behind us, I wonder if the Sixers would’ve fielded better offers — The fake first turned into two seconds, the first of which the Sixers sold for cash on draft night — if teams knew that they would be dealing from the position of strength Mark Cuban knows well from his television career. All of the other sharks are out on Noel’s pitch. 

Perhaps a better question is if the Sixers would’ve held onto Noel if they knew there would be no huge offer sheet to match.

“When you talk about that center position, allocating so much money to the one spot with two players involved just doesn’t pencil out with respect to roster management and roster building,” Colangelo said at the time of the deal.

Translation: JoJo is our guy and we don’t want to pay his backup big money. Fair enough, but would the Sixers’ thinking have been different if the money wasn’t what they originally thought?

After a roller-coaster last few months as a Sixer, Noel adapted well to his new situation in Dallas. Rick Carlisle really takes advantage of the vertical spacing that Noel provides on the offensive end, and we all know about his unique defensive tools. In that small sample, the Mavs defended like a top-ten unit when he was on the floor. For the Sixers, I thought Anderson acquitted himself pretty well over the last few months. He desperately needs to improve his three-point stroke (29 percent from deep just isn’t going to cut it), but Anderson is a rugged defender who still has time to figure some important things out.

Net Rating
Noel (DAL)
Anderson (PHI)

(Stats via and Basketball Reference)

There are plenty of other factors to consider when evaluating the deal (Noel’s trade value last offseason, how he will handle a smaller deal, Embiid’s health, etc.), but the Sixers decided to overpay Redick and Amir Johnson for one year to keep maximum cap flexibility in free agency.

Nerlens Noel seemed to land in a great on-court situation for himself personally, but the lucrative long-term contract (relatively speaking) that he was seeking hasn’t materialized. The Mavs doesn’t have anyone on their roster with Embiid’s talent level (post-Romo, that is), but they’re in a decent position to lock up another talented 23-year-old center at a discount.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann

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