Entering this season with all three centers was a calculated risk for Bryan Colangelo. After Nerlens Noel expressed his displeasure with the overcrowded frontcourt in the preseason, the thin margin for error grew ever smaller.
The margin may not exist anymore. Noel played just eight minutes in Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers, zero of which came in the second half. In the post-game media scrum, he went off, venting to reporters about his marginal role:
Courtesy of our good pal Derek Bodner at Philly Mag:
‘I need to be on the court playing basketball. I think I’m too good to be playing 8 minutes. That’s crazy. That’s crazy,’ Noel said, repeating ‘that’s crazy’ a few more times for extra impact. ‘(They) need to figure this shit out.’
Noel went on to place most of the blame for the situation on the Sixers front office.
‘I think there’s too much on the coach’s plate,’ Noel said. ‘(But) the guys that run the operations, they do what they do.’
When asked how he wanted the situation resolved, Noel didn’t have a preferred solution. He just wants to play.
‘I just want to be on the court playing basketball. I don’t really care who I’m playing with,’ Noel said. ‘Ideally, I’d just like to be playing basketball. Just doing my thing, care free.’
This is bordering on worst-case scenario, short of (knocks on every piece of wood in existence) a major injury impacting one of the bigs. Noel was a bit more tactful prior to the season, perhaps under the assumption one public outcry would be enough to force Colangelo’s hand. Betting on more time aiding his cause, the Sixers’ GM has only seen the situation grow worse.
Noel is the vocal part of the problem here, but the issue reverberates up and down the roster. Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor have been mashed together, both playing out of position at times, in a futile attempt to distribute enough minutes to keep everyone happy. This starting configurations forces Ersan Ilyasova to the bench, slides Dario Saric to the wing, and unsettles lineups for a group of guards and wings who already need near-perfect circumstances to thrive. It creates yet another hoop for Brett Brown to jump through.
There probably aren't any solutions available to appease the masses. The Sixers would have to hope for middling returns at best were they to trade any of the non-Embiid bigs, while keeping all three keeps an untenable situation intact. The former is probably more acceptable than junking up the rotation and leaving the roster susceptible to mutiny; it doesn't make dumping talented players for 25 cents on the dollar acceptable practice for an organization with an eye on building toward a brighter future.
Colangelo and Brown need to get creative, because their opportunity to get ahead of the problem came and went. In the short-term, maybe you convince the trio to rotate games off, guaranteeing more available minutes and fresher legs. But even that comes with a laundry list of problems, particularly asking the team’s best player to take arbitrary rest days because management hasn’t taken care of an issue everyone has long been aware of. Barring a golden opportunity falling in their lap, a la the Teddy Bridgewater injury that bailed out the Eagles, the Sixers will leave someone in the equation dissatisfied.
Trade rumors have been dormant for months. Noel’s loud irritation with the situation should put the gears back in motion.