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What Should the Sixers Do with Nerlens Noel?

PoliticsWhat Should the Sixers Do with Nerlens Noel?

With three starting centers, at least one man in Philadelphia seems to be openly campaigning for a trade.

NBA media day is like the first day of school. Everyone’s back after a summer of hitting their weight goals, all smiles, ready for the season ahead. In Philadelphia, that was especially the case: The Sixers have won 47 games the last three seasons combined and finally, the dark clouds are parting. Run a Google search on "Ben Simmons second coming of" and the first two results are Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Dario Saric has arrived after crossing the narrow sea with a horde of Dothraki. Joel Embiid is finally going to play in an NBA game, and he joked about playing point guard and even made a "trust the process" reference, as Sam Hinkie watched on from a Starbucks in Palo Alto. Okafor was on Reddit answering questions about cheesesteaks spots and his favorite Chance songs.

Oh, and this happened:

Everyone was having a great time. Well, almost everyone. On Sunday, Noel told local reporter Keith Pompey the situation in Philadelphia was just silly, given the team has three starting centers. On Monday, he leaned all the way into all his frustrations, even the team’s PR staff couldn’t stop him from going in:

I don’t really blame Noel. You’re one of the top-rated high school players in the country. You go to Kentucky, set a school record with 12 blocks in a game, then tear your ACL a little over a week later. You go from consensus number one pick to a question mark, but still you end up getting selected sixth, sit out your rookie season, make the All-Rookie first team the next year, but then, your team is not very eager to construct a roster around you that can win games. Meanwhile, the front office keeps drafting more guys who play your position. Today? Embiid is healthy, Okafor—despite his flaws—is a capable offensive player in the league, and you’ve yet to truly establish yourself in the league. Restricted free agency is coming up this summer, your new general manager shopped you this summer but couldn’t find the right deal, and suddenly you look around and you’re not one of your franchise's priorities, which might start cutting into your long-term future.

Trade demands are tricky though. Unless you’re a superstar in this league, and even then they can really put a stain on your reputation. Remember when Vince Carter pouted his way out of Toronto, and in the final few months declared he was quitting dunking and probably tipped off an inbounds play to an opposing team in the final seconds of a game? Or when Dwight Howard failed to force his way out of Orlando to Brooklyn, made it really awkward for Stan Van Gundy, then opted in to his contract for one more season before he got his wish and landed on the Lakers, which ended up being a nightmare? Or consider Greg Monroe, who signed a one-year qualifying offer with the Pistons so he could hit unrestricted free agency, landed with the Bucks, and is now coming off the bench in Milwaukee.

The grass might look greener on the other side, but it’s entirely possible Philadelphia could still be the best long-term spot for Noel. The funny thing about minutes in the NBA is coaches will give them out to players who can win them some games. It’s a meritocracy. The Sixers are ready and hopeful they’re going to start winning some games now, so Noel has training camp and preseason to beat out his teammates for the minutes he thinks he deserves. Embiid might be the team’s Willy Wonka golden ticket to contention, and Okafor might turn into a go-to offensive threat, but Noel can provide the team with a defensive presence it's lacking. He has real skills to offer, and there might just still be a fit.

It might even be a shame, after languishing in a no-win situation for a few seasons, for it not to work out. The Sixers might be a top-five League Pass team this year. They might even fight for a playoff spot. That might be the optimistic part of me reaching a little bit, but we’re all in agreement that they’re going to be exciting, and the whole long-term rebuild thing might finally pay off. I hope Noel is there to be a part of it.

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