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As dire season winds down, Sixers look to future

Summer League could be debut of Noel, Embiid as twin towers

POSTED: Mar 28, 2015 9:08 PM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper

NBA.com

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The 76ers might finally see the duo they've been waiting on in Summer League.

The 76ers expect Joel Embiid to participate in summer league in his first action as a pro but have not decided whether Nerlens Noel will also be on the court in July. The organization wants to make a group decision whether it will be more beneficial to see the two big men together or better to create a restful offseason for Noel after he went from a serious knee injury to a heavy workload as a rookie.

Embiid playing at all will be an important update after sitting out all 2014-15, barring a shocking change of plans by the Sixers in the final couple weeks, because of a stress fracture in his right foot that led to surgery, just as Noel was sidelined all last season by a torn ligament in his left knee. The chance to see Embiid, the No. 3 pick, with Noel, though, would provide extra value as an early look at 2015-16 as Philadelphia works to figure out how the two centers fit.

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"It's hard for me to go on record and say for sure," coach Brett Brown said when asked about Embiid playing in July, "but everything is pointing toward that and I'd be very disappointed if he wasn't on the court with us in summer league."

As for Noel playing as well, Brown said he has not broached the topic with Noel yet, but said, "Personally, I'm open to it. If it's something that he really wants to do, we'll talk about it. If you put a gun to my head right now, I don't know if I'm going to make him play in summer league.

"We're going to talk it through, he and I, and figure it out. It would make a little bit of sense -- well let's have a look with him and Joel together. I understand that reason. But I don't feel strong one way the another yet. I might after the season. At the moment I don't. And whatever we do, I'm going to do it with him."

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While players ordinarily participate in summer league after their rookie season, even after rookie seasons filled with positives, Noel's situation is complicated by his injury history. The 76ers have bundled him in caution since the 2013 draft, holding the Kentucky product out all last season even though he said he was strong enough to play near the end of 2013-14. They gave him games off during the 2014 summer league in Orlando and Las Vegas. And now they may decide the 30.9 minutes per outing this season with no sign of knee troubles should be followed by as much rest as possible.

Embiid, meanwhile, has yet to be cleared to join teammates on the courts, mostly doing individual work plus some light drills against an assistant coach offering token pressure.

"You see a frustration with him because he just hasn't been able to play," Brown said. "Sadly, I had the experience with that with Nerlens last year, so you're more educated and comfortable doing it. I see at times Joel is frustrated.

"It's hard keeping [Embiid's] weight down to the level that we want when you can't really have that grind and pound and get his cardio up and sweat. It's become easier over the past six weeks because he's been able to do more because his foot is healing and getting better. I see a more spirited person, somebody that's able to sweat and start to get his weight down. He's been great. I just feel like his mood and his attitude because he's actually now been able to get on the floor is a lot better than it was previously."

When Embiid is on the court, Brown said, "his skill package is off the charts, where he can shoot 3s and corners comfortably. He can go to the line. He's an 80-percent free throw shooter. Jump hook right, jump hook left. You see a vast variety and a range of skills that is all wrapped up into somebody that really hasn't played much. That has to be acknowledged. His progression, his route to being significant on the court, I'm expecting it's going to take some time. Why shouldn't it? He hasn't played basketball, really, for a long time."

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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