In light of the ongoing soap opera surrounding Sixers center Nerlens Noel, general manager Bryan Colangelo spoke with the media after practice on Monday, his first public appearance in several months. The media session lasted about 50 minutes, effectively providing the availability Kyle Neubeck sought from Colangelo when he penned his thoughts on the situation Monday morning.
Colangelo’s goal in speaking to the media was to provide damage control for a situation that was on the precipice of spiraling out of control. He attempted to walk back some of Brown’s comments about Noel being taken completely out of the rotation, stating that the head coach didn’t mean the former Kentucky big man will not play at all.
Colangelo on Noel: "This is not a benching. This is just a moment of realization that we got a lot of talent on this team & everybody is not— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) December 19, 2016
...going to be able to play."— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) December 19, 2016
In regards to how this logjam came to be, Colangelo placed the blame on a couple different sources. He seemed to throw shade at former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie, blaming him for either assembling a team with so many big men, or not coming up with a solution to get rid of one of them.
#Sixers B Colangelo: 'We have a logjam at center due to decisions that were made before I got here.'— Tom Moore (@tmoore76ers) December 19, 2016
He then noted the plethora of injuries to Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Nerlens Noel, as well as the uncertainty surrounding their longterm health, limited the team’s ability to make any roster decisions regarding the trio.
Bryan Colangelo: "I don't think we've been at a point where we could actively pursue a trade with any of the centers." #sixers— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) December 19, 2016
Colangelo's reasons for that: health, injuries, uncertainty. https://t.co/hU5lgUwPsP— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) December 19, 2016
#Sixers B Colangelo: 'I don't think, at any point, we've been able to actively pursue a trade (of bigs) due to injuries ...'— Tom Moore (@tmoore76ers) December 19, 2016
Colangelo’s statements sounded like he was leaving the door open for the opportunity for Noel to work his way back into the Sixers core, stating he has no interest in making a trade for the sake of doing it.
Colangelo on Noel: "He is a young, talented prospect that we are trying to determine whether or not he's a fit for this roster."— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) December 19, 2016
Colangelo on all bigs being on the roster to end the season. "If they all are, so be it. I will not make a bad deal for this organization."— Derek Bodner (@DerekBodnerNBA) December 19, 2016
Those comments may not necessarily be true, but Colangelo needs to find a way to maintain whatever is remaining of Nerlens Noel’s trade value. By hinting at the notion of Noel being a contributing member of the Sixers going forward, it helps to prevent other teams from thinking that Colangelo is desperate enough to take the first offer to send him out of town.
Although that may not be the most effective methodology, it’s one of the few ways Colangelo can try and save face in this situation.
Based off his comments as a whole, my educated guess is the Sixers want Noel to rehab his image before rewarding him with minutes, and in turn the organization will seek out a new destination for him.
BC believes if Noel shows he is healthy and professional, it could lead to a trade. #Sixers— Tom Moore (@tmoore76ers) December 19, 2016
Although Noel does have a case for being frustrated with the team’s current situation, he hasn’t necessarily handled it the best. Both Brown and Colangelo have noted he was barely with the team this summer, elected to have a knee procedure, then spent three weeks away from the team rehabbing in Alabama, all while being the only big man to decry the team’s situation.
His outburst about “figuring this shit out” after only playing eight minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers after being away from the team for nearly two months was another misguided display of selfishness, and management finally decided to put their foot down. He may be doing his best to get himself out of Philadelphia, but Colangelo is not going to allow himself to be strong armed into making a trade unless it’s one that he feels best suits the Sixers. On the flip side, elongating this tenuous situation could be just as problematic as trading Noel for pennies on the dollar, especially if they continue to force him to twiddle his thumbs on the end of the bench.
If this alt-benching is as temporary as Colangelo claims it’s going to be, then perhaps his public shaming against the Nets will simply serve as a wakeup call for the former sixth overall pick. For his own sake, Noel needs to give off the impression of being a happy camper, despite the fact he clearly is not. His comments prior to the game on Sunday were already a good sign of someone who realizes his lack of cooperation won’t get him anywhere.
Nerlens Noel: "I’m going to...be a professional and get better at every aspect that doesn’t involve being on the court or in the game.”— Christopher A. Vito (@ChrisVito) December 18, 2016
The formula here is starting to look pretty clear. Step one: have Noel use this situation as a learning experience to become a better teammate publicly. Step two: reward Noel with playing time for showing an improved attitude, effectively showcasing him for a February trade. Step three: find a suitable trade for both parties now that the situation looks much more tenable on the outside, even if it isn’t behind closed doors.
The last thing Philadelphia needs is for this drama to continue to loom over the team for the rest of the season, so hopefully Colangelo, Brown, and Noel can all now get on the same page going forward.