It wasn’t so much of a bombshell as a matter-of-fact statement by 76ers coach Brett Brown. But talking in the hallways outside of the arena on the campus of Ohio State before his team took on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday night, Brown strongly hinted that rookie center Nerlens Noel would be sitting out the season while still recovering from the torn ACL in his left knee he suffered in February, in his only season at Kentucky. Said Brown:
“It’s going slow. I doubt, everybody doubts, that he’s going to play this year. I like the fact that he is with us every single day in every single way, in video sessions, practice, shootarounds, in the classroom. It’s an opportunity for him to learn me and the NBA. We don’t want to waste this year. I think from a skill perspective it’s an opportunity to break down his shot, really work on his free throw, start a little bit from ground zero. He’s bought in. He’s been great. On my staff, we have Greg Foster, who has played in the NBA for 13 years, and a fellow NBA big can pay attention to him. Although we won’t see him on the court, I feel good that his path is a little bit more directed by him being with us.”
There was talk that the hope of Noel’s return would somewhat coincide with the New Year, though several NBA executives I talked to after the Sixers acquired Noel in a draft night trade with New Orleans said Noel fell to the No. 6 pick because of the doubt that he’d play this season. While Brown’s words weren’t an official announcement, it seems as though the Sixers’ brass is certainly leaning toward letting Noel not only get the knee completely healed but also allow him to get his body NBA-ready. He was carrying a rail-thin 206 pounds on his 6-11 frame at the NBA combine, though he now says he’s closer to 230. Adding that bulk on a not-fully-healed knee would probably do more harm than good, so perhaps sitting him out is a no-brainer.
Asked whether Chicago's Derrick Rose may have sort of set a precedent by taking his time coming back from his torn ACL, Brown wasn’t too quick to compare injuries.
“Comparing injuries, I’m not capable of comparing,” he said. “He [Noel] needs to be nurtured this year. I think we’ve grabbed the thing and put him on a road map that’s good for him and good for the program.
“It most definitely wasn’t made [to sit Noel] all along. I think it’s been a work in progress and a decision that I think was going to be made. Nobody ever said to me that this is a definite, but I think everybody is expecting it to be a definite decision. But even now as we speak no one has said that this isn’t a 100 percent certainty.”