clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Nerlens Noel unhappy with 76ers roster situation

Nerlens Noel is calling for change. Could that lead to him changing his uniform to green?

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Nerlens Noel needs something to change. While the defensive anchor of the Philadelphia 76ers stopped short of demanding a change of scenery, it’s clear that he is frustrated by the team’s direction.

Speaking to the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey, Noel vented about the current construction of the Sixers roster, which includes three centers selected within the top six picks of their respective drafts. Noel has seen the Sixers tank their way through three seasons since Philadelphia acquired him in a draft-day trade with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2013 and all they have to show for it is a bunch of guys that play the same position that he does.

“I feel like it definitely needs to be figured out,” Noel told the Inquirer. “I think at the end of the day, again, you have three starting-caliber centers. And it’s not going to work to anyone’s advantage having them on the same team. That’s how I’m looking at it. I’m not opposed to anything, but things need to be situated.”

It’s likely that Noel will come off the bench this season behind Joel Embiid, who the Sixers still believe will develop into a dominant force despite injuries that have deprived him of stepping on the court in each of his first two seasons. That leaves Noel battling for reserve minutes with Jahlil Okafor, the No. 3 overall pick in 2015.

Okafor’s limited mobility around the perimeter prevents him from being an ideal pairing with Embiid, but Noel has the athleticism to keep up with the stretch fours that now populate the league. The Sixers have experimented with Noel at the power-forward spot in the past, but just because he’s capable of it doesn’t mean he’s comfortable playing out of position.

“I think I sacrificed a lot,” said Noel. “And at this point, there’s really not too much that I’m capable of sacrificing.”

Even if Noel were to begrudgingly accept a full-time shift to the power-forward position, he would still end up coming off the bench behind rookie Ben Simmons, the top overall pick in this year’s draft. He would also be sharing minutes with Dario Saric, the promising prospect from Croatia that is finally joining the team after being drafted 12th overall in 2014.

The Sixers have a logjam up front, with five players listed at 6-foot-10 or taller vying for time at two positions. There simply isn’t enough opportunity when all of them are healthy to give them each the playing time they deserve, so something inevitably has to give. The Sixers front office must know this, but Noel is the only one within the organization bold enough to say it.

If Noel’s comments push the Sixers to revisit trade options, the Boston Celtics may be among the teams that come calling.

Danny Ainge was rumored to have explored a deal for one of Philadelphia’s big men before the draft but wasn’t willing to meet their steep demands. If Noel begins to push behind the scenes, or if common sense regarding the state of their roster wins out, the Sixers may be more motivated to make a deal.

Boston has already made a massive upgrade to their frontcourt with the free-agent signing of Al Horford, but that wouldn’t necessarily prohibit them making a move for Noel. Pairing Horford with Noel would gives the Celtics one of the most imposing defensive frontcourts in the league, while Horford’s versatility and increased shooting range help make the match work on the offensive end.

Noel has averaged 10.5 points and 8.1 rebounds in two seasons after his rookie year was wiped out by an ACL injury. His offensive game remains raw, but the 22-year-old still has plenty of room to grow, and he projects as a potential double-double threat if given starter’s minutes.

The defensive end is where Noel really shines. He was 8th in the league in Defensive Rating in 2014-15 when he made the All-Rookie First Team, and he has finished in the top eight in Defensive Box Plus/Minus in each of his two seasons. He has also finished ninth or higher in both Steal Percentage and Block Percentage at least once in his young career.

A player of Noel’s caliber would have a lot of appeal for the Celtics, but the asking price may make them hesitant. Noel will enter restricted free agency after this season, so Ainge will need to be cautious about giving up valuable assets for a player that could potentially walk after only one season. They would be better off waiting a year to sign him as a free agent, banking on the idea that Philly won’t be eager to match their offer. It’s clear that Noel isn’t happy in Philadelphia, so why would the Sixers carve out a significant part of their cap space to retain a disgruntled player that doesn’t fit a position of need?

The argument for making a deal now is that they could avoid competing with other suitors in free agency. It would give them a year to see how Noel fits into their system, while also giving them time to sell him on sticking with the franchise in the long term. It’s certainly not a stretch to believe that the Celtics could sell the Malden, Massachusetts native on the city of Boston.

Given the risk that he could bolt after only a year, the Celtics should not consider giving up their top assets, i.e., Marcus Smart or either of the Brooklyn Nets draft picks. Considering that the Sixers will likely lose Noel after this year and that he’s not expected to start for them anyway, they shouldn’t be expecting anywhere near that price. Boston is dealing from a position of strength; Philly is not.

Boston will only deal for Noel if the price is right, but if his recent comments signal that he may be pushing for a trade, the price may be about to drop.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Celtics Blog Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Boston Celtics news from Celtics Blog