By this point, you’ve likely heard the murmurs echoing from the Philadelphia 76ers locker room—Nerlens Noel doesn’t see any way the three-center rotation can work and sees no point in waiting to move someone.
“I don’t see a way of it working,” Nerlens Noel said of the Sixers’ frontcourt logjam. “You have three talented centers that can play 30-plus minutes a night. … And it’s just not going to work to anybody’s advantage having that on the same team. That’s how I’m looking at it. I’m not opposed to anything, but things need to be situated.”
Considering Noel noted the Sixers’ three centers – Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid, and himself – it doesn’t seem likely that Ben Simmons’ fractured fifth metatarsal, which will keep 2016’s No. 1 pick sidelined for at least three months, will have much impact on his feelings surrounding the rotation.
If the Sixers need to move a big man–and numerous signs point towards Noel being the odd man out–why wait?
That sentiment was echoed by Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo earlier in the summer, though his latest remarks about the big man stockpile was, “Where we are is an enviable position. I don’t feel like we’re up against a deadline.”
To an extent, the Sixers actually are up against a deadline. Noel becomes a restricted free agent next summer when the projected salary cap will be $102 million, and considering the unfathomable amounts of cash that were tossed around to less-than-stellar talents like Matthew Dellavedova and Evan Turner, it’s quite likely a franchise or two throws some significant change Noel’s way.
In that case, if the Sixers, for whatever reason, decided to keep Noel, management will need to make its mind up by the trade deadline or risk letting him walk on a pricey offer sheet not worth matching.
Colangelo could argue that the Sixers are in an enviable position, but that’s just not the case. Philadelphia is home to a cadre of big men in an era when small-ball reigns supreme and teams across the league are well aware that the Sixers, at some point soon, will have to unload either Noel or Okafor.
The longer they wait to do that, the less leverage they have, especially in the case of Noel entering a contract season.
Why move Noel?
And then, of course, there’s the discussion of which big man to move—Noel or Okafor.
A few factors come to mind here. First, while Simmons, Embiid and Okafor seemed to become the best of friends throughout the summer, posting Instagram pictures and all that good stuff, Noel was nowhere to be found. The same was the case in most, if not all Sixers preseason marketing outings. It doesn’t help that Noel now seems quite unhappy with the current roster situation, and for good reason.
The one argument many fell back on for keeping Noel and moving Okafor was that Noel’s defensive presence was simply too valuable to replace. But considering he’ll now be coming off the bench behind Embiid, whom Brown said “needs to be the crown jewel, the centerpiece of our defense,” Philly’s need for a rim protector should now be found in Embiid. Additionally, if either of Noel or Okafor is more suited to play alongside Embiid, it looks like Okafor’s offensive capabilities make him the more intriguing option.
The Sixers are at a point where it’s time to start building something–anything. If it’s for the better of the team that the Sixers move Noel soon rather than later, which would also aid in team chemistry and finality once a now year-long debate can be put behind them, why wait?