The lead-up to the Philadelphia 76ers’ 2016-17 season hasn’t exactly gone the way head coach Brett Brown planned it.
Ben Simmons broke his foot.
Jerryd Bayless hurt his wrist.
Jahlil Okafor has yet to play in the preseason after knee surgery seven months ago that the Sixers called minor arthroscopic surgery. It was supposed to be a six-to-eight week recovery, and now it’s seven months later and he’s still not ready to play in a game.
But some of the issues started back before training camp even started when Sixers center Nerlens Noel called the logjam at the center position “silly” and expressed disappointment that he, or one of the other big men, was not moved during the offseason.
Noel clearly wasn’t happy with the situation on Media Day, and my 97.3 ESPN colleague Michael Kaskey-Blomain reports there is “friction” between the big man and the team.
Although Noel isn’t explicitly demanding to be traded, or start, or play 40 minutes per game, he can certainly understand the playing time he received his first two seasons in the league (after sitting out his first season with a knee injury) will now be compromised as he competes for playing time with Okafor (when healthy) and Joel Embiid. During his first two seasons with the Sixers, Noel averaged about 30 minutes per game. With Okafor and Embiid in the mix, there is a chance those minutes could dwindle into the 15-to-20 per-game range, which would affect his numbers.
But if the Sixers win more games than they did during his first two seasons in the league, what does playing time matter, right?
If the two sides don’t come to an agreement on a contract extension by Halloween, Noel will then become a restricted free agent next summer. When free agency comes around, the NBA bases a lot of salaries on production, and Noel understands that if he is not going to play as much as he did the first two seasons, he will not put up the same numbers, which could affect his earning potential.
Now, what about the trade talk we heard so much about this offseason?
The perception seems to be that while Noel was once the guy the Sixers preferred, right now Okafor could be more in the Sixers’ good graces. This may be a by-product of their contract situations, as the Sixers have Okafor under control for this year and two more seasons, whereas Noel is set to be a free agent next summer who wants a big raise.
There are plenty of questions, including the fit of all these big guys on the court, and Noel knows it.
At this point, it’s hard to imagine the Sixers giving Noel an extension, and they are well within their right to make that decision. However, the Sixers are going to need to assess what they have and make a decision without losing him for nothing.
Making the situation worse, Noel has been sidelined with a left groin strain since Oct. 6, and the big man has reportedly been taking his time to return in order to put more pressure on the team to make some kind of move. An unfortunate thing about this is Noel would be getting a great opportunity to play now due to Embiid’s restrictions and Okafor’s continued absence.
While the Noel conundrum and these early Sixers injuries have been a downer, at least Embiid is healthy and looking good heading into the season.