The possibility of Nerlens Noel returning is exciting. His 4-4-14 tweet sent people into a frenzy. But something about the whole thing bugged me, and it reminded me of a few other situations that happened earlier in the season.
Throughout his entire recovery process, and the Sixers rebuilding process at large, there seems to have been a collective lowering of expectations. It's the absolute perfect way to handle most things in business, a pseudo under-promise over-deliver approach. They're not necessarily under-promising, but they are trying to manage expectations and emphasize patience. This way we don't get spiteful on top of the whole disillusion with the season, i.e. the Return campaign with Derrick Rose.
With Sam Hinkie's perceived image of being the cunning, hyper-intelligent Dark Lord of the Sith, Nerlens' tweeting a possible comeback date could have been handled differently. Some quick housekeeping...we don't know for sure if that's what Noel was referencing. We don't know for sure if it's just a "target date." And we also don't know if this was sanctioned by the Sixers, regardless of what the media says about the organization being unaware of what happened. But the whole thing speaks to not running a tight enough ship. Many people misinterpret this as micromanaging or being megalomaniacal. I think it's more keeping everyone on the same page.
Let's say the Sixers didn't know about Nerlens' feeling about returning. Why didn't they? Why isn't there the constant discussion about goals and how to healthfully achieve those goals? There is precedent for the new Sixer regime being a little tight lipped. First, it was Dr. James Andrews saying Nerlens was cleared. Then it was Arnett Moultrie having to bitch about not playing for him to play, and now it is Nerlens cryptically sending word of a possible return through stupid Twitter. It feels like the Sixers' desire of saying "nothing to see here" and keeping expectations low has negatively progressed into bad communication amongst themselves. Brett Brown has to speak to the media all the time, and I understand how frustrating that can be. But his incessant need to mention the phrase "Nerlens has to tick off more boxes" when questioned about Noel's return reeks of phoniness.
WE GET IT. EVERYONE GETS IT. We want Nerlens to be fully healthy before he plays. Even if he is fully healthy, we understand if he doesn't play. The excitement of the public about him returning this season is genuine, and it would be a nice little tease for next year after the doldrums of waiting this year out. No one would care about that tiny bit of excitement shit to end the season if his health were in jeopardy, even to an infinitesimal degree. At least no one in the know, like readers of Liberty Ballers. You don't need to cater to the masses, and you've already not done that by undoing the team via the Jrue trade. Plus we're already the most excited. The season ends in a month and the lottery is the month after. Everything is in the balance, and frankly I could give a fuck if Nerlens returned this year.
Alright, I do give a fuck. Of course it would be nice. But you understand what I mean. Even if he is 100 percent healthy, the horror of him injuring himself in one of these last few games of the season is enough for me to stow him away until summer league. There would absolutely be value in him getting some minutes, but at what cost? The fool would say "hey, he could get injured at any moment, why not just play him if he's healthy?" That's the point. The fact that he could get injured on any play actually is the argument for him not playing. These last games are meaningless, so why take any risk whatsoever by him returning? That little boost at the end of the season is certainly not worth it at the expense of his long-term health. Should he get injured next year, so what? We did what we could to keep him healthy and stuck to the perfect plan. You can't control everything. But why not control what you can? (By the way, I'm on the fence on this issue, with that fence mildly leaning toward not playing him. I completely understand both sides' of the argument and think it is a difficult decision to make)
The 76er higher-ups not controlling some of these media stories is an area of concern. In the end, it probably won't matter much. It is indicative though of people not checking in on each other and making sure everyone knows where each other stands. It reminds me of a scene from the movie Moneyball when Billy Beane, played by Bradley Pitt, goes up to David Justice (played by some black guy) while he's hitting in the cages. David Justice was holding on to the image of himself as being a star, so Billy made a deal with where they both knew what they wanted from each other. Billy spoke to him like a man, gave him a little reality check, and asked him to mentor the younger players while he was in the waning years of his career. Justice had knowledge and clout, but he wasn't using those things to help the collective achieve their goal.
The goal of the organization and the players themselves should be identical. Win. It solves everything, and it means things are being done correctly. And everyone gets rich in the process. There shouldn't have to be pressure, either external (Dr. Andrews) or internal (Moultrie complaining, Nerlens' tweet), for progress to be made. Why let skepticism pervade rather than positive spin? Because they are afraid of expectations being raised, even slightly. Or something. I don't know why. They have done a great job being honest so far, but they just haven't been honest enough. What would be worse to me would be if the organization truly didn't know about all these situations. At least not mentioning them to media out of fear or whatever reason means some communication is happening, not knowing about them at all means no communication is happening
I'm curious to see how Nerlens' possible return is handled the rest of the way.