December 16, 2016
Friday night's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers marked the first game of the season that the Sixers had all three of their highly-drafted young big men — Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, and Jahlil Okafor — in uniform and in the rotation at the same time. All three played in the first half, but once Brett Brown made the decision to go away from playing two traditional bigs at the same time down the stretch, there logically had to be an odd man out.
It was Noel, who only logged eight minutes of playing time for the game, including zero in the second half. And after the game, the Sixers fourth-year center was not one bit happy about it.
"I just want to be able to play basketball," Noel said when he was asked about who he wanted to be paired with. "I don't care who I'm playing with. I’m not an eight-minute player, so I don't know what that's about. So I don't care where, I don't. I don't really care. I need to be on the court playing basketball.
"I mean, I'm too good to be playing eight minutes. Nah, that's crazy, that's crazy, that's crazy. Need to figure this sh!t out. F#$% out of here."
Of course, Noel's displeasure with the current situation isn't surprising at all. At Sixers media day back in September, the 22-year-old clearly expressed that he didn't envision the Sixers' three center rotation working out long-term. Friday night was the first time that all three young bigs were healthy, and even then, Noel was questionable up until a few minutes before tip with a left ankle sprain.
"Yeah, I anticipated it," Noel said when asked about his previous comments. "Like I said before, I think it's just too much on the coach's plate. The guys that run operations do what they do. So, yeah."
Noel managed two points (1-4 FG), five rebounds and a block in eight first-half minutes against the Lakers. Brown described his second-half benching as "a matter of minutes," as Embiid and Okafor handled the center spot down the stretch.
"When they started going small, small, small, something had to give," Brown said. "And Nerlens was a casualty to that, as well as his health isn't 100 percent."
"I don't care who I'm playing with. I’m not an eight-minute player, so I don't know what that's about. So I don't care where, I don't. I don't really care. I need to be on the court playing basketball."
A restricted free agent this offseason, Noel's message about the Sixers frontcourt rotation has been consistent. Just two seasons ago, he finished third in Rookie of the Year voting after averaging 9.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, and 1.8 steals in 75 games played.
But in that 2014-15 season, Embiid was sitting out (for the first time) after undergoing surgery on his broken right foot and Okafor had yet to be drafted. Needless to say, the calculus has changed quite a bit.
"I know I'm still in a situation," Noel said. "The smartest thing I can do is control what I can control, work hard, and work on the things that I need to work on. But like I said, it's just too much on the coach's plate. So regardless of who handles it, I think there's a lot of frustration."
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