Was it clarification or damage control?
On Sunday evening, 76ers coach Brett Brown said Nerlens Noel was out of the team’s rotation for the foreseeable future. But on Monday afternoon, team president Bryan Colangelo seemed to back off from those statements.
“This is not a benching,” Colangelo said. “This is just a moment of realization that we’ve got a lot of talent on this team. Not everybody can play. At some point, you will see him on the court.”
The one thing we do know is that the 6-foot-11, 232-pound center remains a player the Sixers are interested in moving. Colangelo said he hasn’t had an opportunity to trade Noel. But that’s because the 22-year-old has been injured and the return offers have not been what the Sixers deem as equal value.
Colangelo added that Noel’s discussing his desire to be traded in September was not the best course of action by the big man.
“I would say it was ill-advised in terms to his whole value,” Colangelo said. “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.
“Then people start looking and questioning things outside of health and play and other things.”
Noel never actually discussed his desire to be traded to the media. He did, however, wonder why the Sixers didn’t move him or Jahlil Okafor, whom the team also shopped this summer.
On Monday morning, the biggest questions surrounded Brown’s comments about Noel’s being the odd man out while the Sixers play their other two starting-caliber centers, Joel Embiid and Okafor.
Monday’s scheduled practice was canceled. Instead, a few Sixers were on the court performing what the public relations department called individualized workouts with assistant coaches. Afterward, Noel and Brown had a long conversation in the gym. Brown and his players were not made available to the media.
“In this particular situation, it does hurt Nerlens,” Brown said Sunday. “But in other situations, it hurts Joel, it hurts [power forward] Ersan [Ilyasova], it hurts [power forward] Dario [Saric]. So the ripple effects are real.”
Brown said sitting Noel was the organization’s decision.
Colangelo did his best on Monday to try to make it seem like Brown’s comments were taken a out of context a little. The coach said there was a logjam at the center position with Noel, Embiid, Okafor, and Richaun Holmes.
“At some point, you will see him on the court,” Colangelo said of Noel. “When that is, it doesn’t need to be black and white in respect to timing and a number of games. Everything changes. Every day presents something different to this team.”
However, there was a sense that Noel was being benched for his displeasure with the Sixers’ inability to trade a big man this summer.
Brown told the media that Noel was no longer in the rotation two days after the center voiced his displeasure with playing just 8 minutes, 2 seconds in Friday’s loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.
But the Sixers said Brown found out that Noel was going to play in that game only 20 minutes before tipoff.
At the suggestion of his doctor, Noel missed the first 23 games after having surgery on inflamed tissue in his left knee. He rehabbed in Alabama instead of with the Sixers at their Camden practice facility. He scored eight points in 10:23 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.
So he has played a total of 18:25 this season.
“He is a young, talented prospect \[and\] we are trying to determine whether or not he’s a fit for the roster,” said Colangelo, who opted not give Noel a contract extension in October.
Noel has averaged 10.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 1.7 assists, and 1.7 blocks in 144 career games. He was first-team all-rookie selection in the 2014-15 season.
“He does a lot of things defensively at an elite level when healthy and engaged,” Colangelo said.
But Colangelo believes that to fairly evaluate Noel, he needs to show that he’s healthy and has a healthy, professional attitude.
For now, Noel is watching from the bench as Embiid and Okafor play in the Twin Towers set.
With Noel “spraining his ankle and being gone again, [Brown] said, ‘I’m going to go with this for the foreseeable future,’” Colangelo said.
When will he get his opportunity to participate in those sets? And how long will he remain a Sixer?
“I will only make deals that make sense for this organization,” Colangelo said. “Hopefully we can make mutual benefit to both the organization and players involved in whichever respective trades between the [February] trade deadline or before the [June] draft, ultimately.
“I’m pretty sure everyone is lined up to criticize whatever deal I make with Nerlens.”