Nerlens Noel went from playing 8 minutes, 2 seconds to being out of the 76ers’ rotation for the foreseeable future. He’ll only get playing time if Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor are in foul trouble.
The Sixers say it has to do with their logjam at the center, with three starting-caliber players in Noel, Embiid, and Okafor. Coach Brett Brown was adamant Sunday that it had nothing to do with Noel’s voicing his displeasure with playing just 8:02 against the Los Angeles Lakers two days earlier.
The 6-foot-11, 231-pounder did not see any action Sunday in a 108-107 victory over the Brooklyn Nets at the Wells Fargo Center.
Perhaps he’s being transparent, but one thing is for sure: Brett Brown doesn’t feel bad for the reserve, who was being touted as cornerstone of the team two seasons ago.
“I feel worse for Richaun,” Brown said of Richaun Holmes, a fourth center who did not play for the second consecutive game.
Brown mentioned that Noel “missed everything,” being away from the team in the preseason and the start of the regular season to rehabilitate inflammation in his left knee.
“Twenty minutes before the game [Friday], I learned he was going to play,” the coach said. “He hasn’t been a part of us. I think this conversation goes to a higher level, a more real level in a few weeks when he actually had some practices.
“Richaun has been here since Day 1. I feel that is something that’s on my mind as much as Nerlens.”
It’s no secret that Noel is unhappy with his situation with the team. There’s a thought that the team is starting to get fed up with his attitude.
“I think this has been decided a long time ago,” Noel said. “I think it had nothing to do with it. It’s something that’s been set in stone.”
The YES Network, which televises Nets games, showed a close-up of him on the bench. But to his credit, Noel didn’t show any signs of displeasure. He smiled while walking to the court for pregame warm-ups.
“You’ve just got to prepare yourself with things like these and take it one step at a time and at the same time be a pro and depend on the things you’ve got to work on,” Noel said.
The big man either had a change of heart or was coached up before speaking the media during pregame. He had voiced his displeasure with the Sixers logjam at the center position before the start of training camp.
But up until recently, the Sixers didn’t have to try to figure things out.
Noel missed the first 23 games with the knee injury. He spent some of that time rehabilitating in Alabama. He scored eight points in 10 minutes in his season debut against the Detroit Pistons on Dec. 11. Noel missed the second half of the game and sat out Wednesday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors with a left ankle sprain.
Noel returned to action Friday against the Lakers and recorded two points, five rebounds and one block while playing all his minutes in the first half.
He voiced his displeasure with that in the locker room.
“I’m not an eight-minute player. So I don’t know what that’s about,“ Noel said at the time. “I don’t really care [who he’s paired with]. I need to be on the court playing basketball. I’m too good to be playing eight minutes right now — that’s crazy, that’s crazy, that’s crazy. Need to figure this [stuff] out.”
Then two days later, he didn’t get off the bench because of the coach’s decision. Brown said “trying to force-feed three bigs in a game is unfair.” Brown felt it created a ripple effect on other players on the team. As they tried to play the three centers, power forward Dario Saric was forced play small forward, where he struggled. Meanwhile, power forward Ersan Ilyasova was also ineffective since his minutes were slashed.
“I said it before and I will say it again,” Brown said. “I personally have a soft spot for Nerlens Noel. We both have Boston connections and he’s been with me for a long time. Nerlens’ heart has been in the right place. He’s in a very unfortunate situation.”