On Thursday the Sixers organization took the first step in clearing up the center logjam that had been a thorn in Brett Brown’s side since drafting Jahlil Okafor in the 2015 draft. Nerlens Noel, the 6th overall pick in the 2013 draft, was dealt to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson, and a 2017 protected first-round pick which will most likely become two Dallas second rounders in 2017 and 2018. Bogut is expected to be waived once he and the team agrees to a buyout.
Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo has been greatly criticized over the past couple of weeks. In some situations, he deserves all the slack in the world: dishonesty about Joel Embiid’s injury, more dishonesty and deviousness about the handling of Ben Simmons’ injury, and the isolation of Okafor during the rest of the team while the front office was convinced that the former Blue Devil would be traded. However, amongst all the moves that Colangelo has made that are deserving of a mob, the trading of Noel is not one of them.
Bryan Colangelo came to the conclusion that Nerlens Noel would be the big man to leave Philadelphia. After the plethora of rumors surrounding Okafor throughout the deadline, the surprise of the deal left fans angered and confused as to why everything they were made out to believe was scrapped, and the player with the potential of Noel would be dumped in a move that does not bring any real cornerstone pieces or trade-able future assets. What offers the team had for Jahlil Okafor remains translucent, but it must not have been enough to release the 21-year-old to another organization.
Initially, the consensus from fans and media alike was that the Sixers received too little in return for Noel, and that Colangelo should have just held onto the 22-year-old defensive specialist. Andrew Bogut will almost certainly never suit up for Philadelphia, Justin Anderson has been disappointing in his first year-and-a-half in the NBA, and the “fake first” that will become two second round picks does not do much for the Sixers, which have more second round picks than the franchise knows what to do with.
The market for big men at this season’s trade deadline by the deal that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans in return for a package that would have had Sixers fans ganging up to burn down the Wells Fargo Center. If the Sixers were hell-bent on moving Noel before Friday’s deadline, they knew that the offers would not yield a return equal to the value of the player being traded.
Nerlens Noel has had injury issues in the past and is an upcoming restricted free agent. The Mavericks’ offer was about as good as the Sixers would find for a player who is about 4 months from being offered an enormous contract, especially with the cap rise that is happening this offseason. The offer sheets for restricted free agents will be higher than the league has ever seen; player values are negatively affected by an expiring contract; the Sixers needed to trade a center. If the front office decided that Noel was the odd man out, then he was going to be traded no matter the offer.
For an expiring contract at an all-time low in big man value, Dallas offered a standard deal that Philadelphia thought would be the best move put on the table. The organization needed to move Noel, and Noel was moved.
So why would the Sixers trade a productive member of the team like Noel as opposed to a bench-warming, underperforming center like Okafor? Simply put, it was decided that risking letting Nerlens enter restricted free agency as a member of the Sixers was far too dangerous and not worth the risk of receiving nothing in return for his loss. It was unlikely that the Sixers would have matched a max-offer sheet for their backup center if another team saw the big man as their starting center of the future.
Jahlil Okafor has two years left on his rookie contract in addition to the remainder of the 2016-17 campaign. Although he has been far worse than the team could have ever imagined after drafting him over Kristaps Porzingis in the 2015 draft, his team-friendly deal and poor play kept him in Philadelphia instead of Noel. Joel Embiid is the center of the future for Philly, and the front office did not believe that it would be worth the cap space to pay a backup $20 million or more per year over a four-year period.
And if Okafor never finds his footing in the NBA, or if the Sixers decide to trade him in the offseason? The team’s other center, Richaun Holmes, who is often forgotten by fans when discussing the roster’s big men, averages 15.0 points and 9.8 rebounds per-36 minutes. Holmes holds his own against Jah (17.9 points, 7.4 rebounds) in the per-36 category, which has become the unofficially official statistic of Sixer fans who like to inflate Embiid’s minutes-restricted numbers (per Max Rappaport).
The Sixers also acquired Justin Anderson, a 23-year-old 2015 first-round pick who did get off to a successful NBA start while in Dallas. Anderson was a toss-in in this deal, but he is still a young, inexperienced player with athleticism and potential to become a solid rotational player in Philadelphia. On a team with a dearth in wing presence, Anderson fills a hole on the roster and will be given an opportunity to earn a large role on the team.
Nerlens Noel was fantastic as the backup to Joel Embiid. He provided rim protection, a spark of athleticism, and an improved mid-range jump shot to keep the team in competition until JoJo returned to do what JoJo does. In fact, many thought that Embiid and Noel would be able to play together and become a nightmare for opposing offenses, which would find it nearly impossible to score points in the paint. The duo only played 8 minutes together this season, so the pairing is a matter of what could have been.
Noel was also an insurance policy for Embiid. If a catastrophic injury were to happen to Joel, or any other unforeseen circumstance occurred that would bar him from playing in NBA games for a significant amount of time, then Nerlens would have become the starting center once again. As of right now, Okafor has shown no signs of being a suitable starting center in the league, but he will be the main backup for the time being (and the starter until Embiid returns from his knee injury).
At this point in his career, Joel Embiid can not be relied upon to stay healthy. Perhaps the Sixers can find another insurance policy with one of their plethora of draft picks or with the money they save on Noel in free agency. The best case scenario would be for Okafor to play well enough for Colangelo to not have to find another center to implement to the young core of players in Philadelphia, but somebody will have to step up in case of the bleak reality that Joel may find it difficult to remain on the court.
Bryan Colangelo has been awful–very, very awful. In his first season as the Sixers general manager, he has mishandled numerous situations and is feeling the drawbacks from numerous critics that just want to see the team rise from the ashes of The Process into the championship contender that Philadelphia has the potential to become. He needs to be honest in his press conferences, bench players when they are injured, and never, ever leave a player at home instead of traveling with the team when he is not 100%, absolutely, doubtlessly being traded.
But Colangelo did not misstep the Nerlens Noel trade. All are entitled to their own opinions as to whether or not Nerlens was the one to be traded, but the front office decided that he was, and so they pulled the trigger, The logjam could not continue for any longer, even if Joel Embiid sits out for the rest of the season. Noel expressed his discontent with the roster situation multiple times throughout the year, and his contract expires at the end of the season. The team did not want to pay him, and it is better to gain something than to lose a player in free agency without compensation.
It was a sad day throughout the Sixers Nation to see Nerlens Noel leave, but a deal was inevitable. He suffered alongside us throughout the entirety of The Process, and was one of the first pieces put in place for the future of the franchise. However, the deal that was made was ideal for both parties, and Bryan Colangelo made the right call.
All the best in Dallas to Nerlens Noel. Thanks for everything.
Photo by Scott Klewicki (via Flickr)