Nerlens Noel, after a few days that saw his name in the headlines between his current role and future status with the 76ers, surprisingly saw the court tonight due to Joel Embiid getting in foul trouble. When he entered the game for Embiid, the Wells Fargo Center gave Noel a standing ovation. After Noel scored a put-back bucket during the Sixers’ next time down the court, the crowd roared again for Noel.
After the game, Embiid was asked about Noel’s ovation. His response was certainly eye-raising:
I loved it. He's my best friend on the team, and I was really happy for him. He's been working his ass off too. The other day [he] was in the gym just working with Richaun [Holmes], playing one-on-one, two-on-two, so I felt really happy for him and I thought he should have played more.
I also want to get on the court and see what we can look like together, because I like him and want to play with everybody. I feel like if we are trying something, we should try the other thing too. So hopefully in the future they do that.
Because I have some type of relationship with him, I think I'm going to get him going, especially on the defensive end. Being aggressive, blitzing every pick and roll, just flying all over the place, I think we can really do that while we're on the court, and then offensively I'm sure we are going to figure it out. But I mean it's a team game, so just going to go out and compete every night with what we have.
Could Noel have handled the situation better during training camp and the beginning of the season? Probably. Should Bryan Colangelo, the man of action who was supposed to clean up this supposed mess of a frontcourt, have acted in a more mature matter when dragging Noel through the mud to the media? Probably. It’s a bad situation all around.
Noel, however, not Richaun Holmes, as Brett Brown said, has been here from “Day 1.” His acquisition set The Process on the path it is now, for better or worse. He’s endured losing more than anyone on his team other than Hollis Thompson. He was cast out of position during his sophomore campaign after a solid rookie season. When put into a position to succeed, he has. He deserves more than the respect Colangelo has shown him and the role Brown has crafted for him, especially in a contract year, where he could be losing tens of millions of dollars the longer he’s buried on the end of Brown’s bench.
I’m of the opinion that once you acquire a franchise player, as the Sixers seem to have with Embiid, the next move is to surround him with the best players possible to suit him. To me, that would include his best friend. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with signing Noel to a contract this offseason, ensuring that an elite rim protector would be on the court at all times in the foreseeable future between him and Embiid. I think Noel is open to that role. At some point in this rebuilding process, you’re going to need to pay your good players. He is a good player, therefore, you should pay him what the market dictates, which may not be a ton after this whole fiasco, and lock down a second unit defensive anchor.
Would he be open to that role if Jahlil Okafor is still on the roster, getting starts opposite Embiid in the frontcourt that take away from his minutes and opportunities? I’m less inclined to think he’d be okay with that.
Time’s yours, Bryan Colangelo. Act wisely.