The Sixers have a problem on their hands. Nerlens Noel is clearly not happy with the arrangement in Philadelphia, and he went public with that information on the eve of media day.
This leaves us with an important question to answer — who is to blame for the disconnect between player and franchise? The answer is broad, and stretches across two regimes. Let’s unpack some of the details.
There’s no way to discuss the problem at hand without acknowledging Hinkie’s role in creating this mess. He is culpable for the logjam of bigs existing in the first place.
Savvy as Hinkie was at reading the trade leaves, he whiffed big in last year’s draft. That is not so much a commentary on Jahlil Okafor the player as it is the problems acquired by adding Okafor to this bunch and letting the situation fester. It was a misread on several fronts; if Hinkie intended to flip Okafor quickly to the highest bidder, he overestimated the leverage he’d have after drafting him. If he thought Noel and Okafor could co-exist regardless of Joel Embiid’s health, he made a big mistake in the player evaluation process.
Neither of those possibilities shines a favorable light on his tenure, and the first is an indictment on what many saw as his biggest strength. BPA at all costs sounds great in theory, but it left the Sixers with a complex problem to solve and few solutions in sight.
Were the Sixers best talent stored at another position, this might have been avoided. Let’s say the team took three wings with their top picks across the last few drafts instead; while they would have ended up with another battle of ego and opportunity, there are ways to work around that. The Sixers’ situation is unique in the rigidity of the overlap, and they are paying the price today because of it.
There are excuses to be made here — the impact of ownership on the Okafor selection is a point of constant debate — but at the end of the day he owns the responsibility of pulling the trigger. If he was willing to walk away on principle when his authority was set to be usurped by the Colangelos, it’s tough to imagine he wouldn’t have done the same in the event he was mandated to draft a player he wasn’t happy selecting.
Hinkie might have handed off a sticky situation to the new Sixers GM, but he shares blame for the situation reaching this point. There was no shortage of offers for the bigs in the offseason, with rumors swirling heavily leading into (and following) the draft.
Even despite the overload, teams valued the Sixers talent on some level, providing Colangelo with plenty of opportunity to get a deal done. Liberty Ballers was made aware of numerous trade negotiations throughout the summer, several of which reached advanced stages with other teams. Combinations of starting-caliber players and picks were available, sources indicated, but for one reason or another deals never went through.
Sitting on the offers was a calculated play on his part. You can’t be criticized for the bad trades you don’t make, and inactivity in the face of some awful, rumored packages projected an image of strength for a period over the summer.
Unlike with Hinkie, Colangelo’s misread was of his own group and not the rest of the league. He was brought in for his general GM experience, but also because he’s supposed to have a greater understanding of things like relationships and “the human element”. Letting the situation fester with all three bigs runs counter to that notion. Instead of doing something to dismantle or remove the ticking time bomb, Colangelo let it sit there and hoped a miracle would stop it from exploding.
Now he’s left to pick up the pieces. You can acknowledge both the tough situation he was handed and the completely predictable combustion he failed to avoid.
Months before we reached the “public complaint” part of the festivities, Noel’s absence during team functions became a point of speculation. Though his non-presence was over-stated at times, he has not done himself many favors the last few months.
While other notable members of the Sixers made appearances all over the place this summer, Noel mostly stayed out of the spotlight. He was still working with the team to improve for the upcoming season, as evidenced by these videos uploaded by Sixers strength coach Todd Wright...
... but those do little to quiet the noise when you’re a no-show during Las Vegas Summer League. Vegas brings out executives and staff members from all around the league. When they know your team is working to alleviate a glut of bigs and one of them is perpetually absent, it raises more than a few eyebrows.
Noel’s public image isn’t exactly in the best shape.
The well-publicized rental home incident painted him in a bad light on a national level, and locally there have been troubling indications from people within the team. Sources have indicated to Liberty Ballers at various points during the last year that members of the organization have grown frustrated with his behavior. This sentiment is held by people on several levels within the franchise.
Coupled with the clear need to move on from at least one, if not two of the bigs, any transgressions and/or negative publicity makes the job of the front office harder. If Noel himself is unaware or unsympathetic to this, his agent is collecting a check to make sure his client puts himself in the best situation possible.
The posturing and the general sentiment expressed by Noel yesterday is understandable. He has suffered through a lot the last few seasons, and he’s not in a position to maximize his earnings in Philadelphia. But if he wants the team to help him, he has to help himself first.
Just kidding, guys.