Thursday, April 17, 2014
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Inside the Sixers: No reason to play Nerlens Noel this year

Nerlens Noel runs drills during warm-ups of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Monday, Oct. 14, 2013, in Philadelphia. The Nets win 127-97. (Chris Szagola/AP)
Nerlens Noel runs drills during warm-ups of a preseason NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Monday, Oct. 14, 2013, in Philadelphia. The Nets win 127-97. (Chris Szagola/AP)

Three words of advice for Nerlens Noel as he rehabilitates his surgically repaired left knee: Take your time.

The 76ers rookie originally was expected to need 10 months of recovery and rehabilitation because of the anterior cruciate ligament tear he suffered during his lone season at Kentucky.

The 6-foot-11 center is working hard to make that return possible. But missing the entire 2013-14 season might not be a bad option, considering what's at stake for the Sixers and their 19-year-old franchise player.

I'm tired of hearing that Noel would be better off returning this season. I don't think returning would be a good decision. And even if he's prepared to do so, here's some advice for the Sixers: Don't tell him. Don't give Noel any reason to be encouraged to play this season.

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  • Returning 10 months after his injury would put Noel on the court in December. That's highly unlikely, considering his practice time consists mostly of exercises and shooting drills.

    Twelve months takes him to February. Who knows how bad things will be for the Sixers by then? One of the only benefits of playing Noel would be a few more ticket sales for a team that could eclipse the NBA futility record of 9-73 it set in the 1972-73 season.

    Human nature makes playing this season a chancy temptation.

    Returning from the torn ACL is perhaps the easiest obstacle to overcome. At this time, Noel is an underdeveloped 228-pounder who must compete against physically mature post players. So playing him too early could be akin to Shawn Bradley's trying to defend Shaquille O'Neal in the post.

    Plus, introducing him to a team that has played without him all season will introduce at least a few complications.

    Given the state of the Sixers' current roster, bringing Noel back at this point would be conduct detrimental to the team.

    If he came back too early, it would essentially stunt his growth.

    They can ill afford to damage the face of the franchise physically and emotionally.

    He needs to take this time and gain some weight. Noel also needs time to feel good about his knee and understand what it takes to be an elite player in the NBA. And that's important in Philadelphia, where centers are expected to dominate either offensively or defensively.

    There's no need for Noel to be in a hurry to get back on the floor. He should rush to get into the film room to study tape of some of the great 76ers centers such as Moses Malone, Wilt Chamberlain, and former defensive player of the year Dikembe Mutombo.

    He needs to grow physically and emotionally, because, let's face it, the team will be built around him.

    Last year's team was banking on Andrew Bynum's being the guy. They made a lot of trades to put pieces around him.

    That didn't work because Bynum missed the entire season with bad knees.

    The Sixers have similar expectations for Noel. They shouldn't mess this up by rushing him back when his playing this season is not necessary.

    The franchise will have two first-round picks and substantial cap space next summer that will enable it to build around Noel the next several seasons. He and rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams may be this team's only holdovers three years from now.

    That's why it makes no sense to play Noel this year.

     


    kpompey@phillynews.com

    @PompeyOnSixers

    www.inquirer.com/deepsixer

     

    Keith Pompey Inquirer Staff Writer
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