Where should the 76ers send Nerlens Noel?
It’s no longer a question of if, but when Philly ends the three-man experiment among Noel, Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor. It’s not working, nobody is happy and the cloud of Noel’s uncertainty is capable of causing angst and distraction to a team that has shown some signs of growth this season, with Embiid finally on the court after missing two years recovering from foot injuries.
Noel has made it clear he thinks he deserves more playing time after playing just eight minutes in his return; the Sixers pushed back, saying he hasn’t been around enough this season after undergoing a minor knee operation to make demands. Coach Brett Brown said last week that Noel wouldn’t be in the regular rotation any time soon, unless Embiid or Okafor got in foul trouble. ESPN.com reported that Noel wanted to be traded, which he hasn’t exactly refuted.
It left team president Bryan Colangelo to try and clean up the mess last week, saying that the team wasn’t benching Noel but time was needed to see who can play together.
"The stuff that came out subsequent to that in terms of discussion about wanting to be traded, I can't say that was the best course of action by him to take," Colangelo said. "In fact, I would say it was ill-advised. It was ill-advised not only for his own value but probably for our ability to have him involved in a deal."
Translation: that doesn’t mean it can’t, or won’t, ultimately happen, but because Noel opened up his yap, now we need some time to get his trade value up before we pull the trigger.
So, a divorce between Noel, acquired by former GM Sam Hinkie in one of his first moves in a Draft night deal with New Orleans in 2013 for guard Jrue Holiday and a 2014 first-round pick, and the Sixers seems inevitable and in the best interests of all concerned. But, what should Philly do? What would be a good deal for a big with massive defensive skills but limited on offense and next to no threat behind the 3-point line?
We’re here to help.
Philly is operating at a deficit because everyone around the league knows a trade is likely. On the other hand, the Sixers won’t necessarily suffer in the short term on the floor as Embiid’s minutes increase, and they’ll get a long look whether there’s any hope for Embiid and Okafor working together in the meantime. And: the expectations this season for the 76ers are a little higher, but not that high; it’s not like anyone in Philly is expecting a playoff run. If Colangelo opts to wait until the summer to make a deal, it won’t necessarily hurt.
But he’ll have to pull the trigger eventually. And if so, there are a few deals that would make sense to contemplate, addressing potential weaknesses and grading out as net positives for both sides. (These are ideas, not scoops.)
In no particular order or preference:
NERLENS SCENARIO 1
Noel + future second-round pick to New Orleans for PG Jrue Holiday
Reverse the Hinkie and bring Holiday back.
It's an uneven trade money-wise (Noel makes $4.3 million; Holiday makes $11.2 million), but the Sixers are so far under the cap they can easily take on the extra salary. Philly is in desperate need of a lead point guard; Sergio Rodriguez is shooting 39.5 percent from the floor and Jerryd Bayless is out for the year. Holiday is a reasonable four-month rental by the Sixers to see if he can stay healthy and get back near his All-Star form while Ben Simmons learns the ropes of playing PG in the pros. (The only issue is that Holiday’s wife, Lauren, the U.S. women’s soccer team star, is recovering from brain surgery after giving birth to the couple’s first child.)
The Pels have Tyreke Evans back from injury to finish the season at the point, and Noel is well worth Nawlins looking for the next year-plus. He displayed at least some acumen away from the basket last season. But his greatest potential for the Pels would obviously be at the defensive end, as a big who could take some of the burden guarding opposing centers off of Anthony Davis.
NERLENS SCENARIO 2
Noel + F Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot for F Ed Davis, G Shabazz Napier
The Blazers desperately need interior defense -- as we speak, they are DFL in the league in Defensive Rating, allowing a ghastly 115.8 points per 100 possessions, and are 28th in points allowed per game (112.8). This is no longer the feel-good story of last season; Portland has to fix this, and fast. Napier is getting next to no burn playing behind Damian Lillard; Evan Turner's on the ball, anyway, when he comes in the game. Davis is a rugged guy and works hard, but he's not capable of fixing Portland's awful defense by himself; in Philly, he’d be an upgrade off the bench. So why not see if Noel can come into the Rose City and give them some defensive presence in the paint? Napier would get point guard minutes in Philly behind Rodriguez, and Davis is a first-rate energy provider off the bench. Luwawu-Cabarrot, one of Philly's first-round picks this year, can get with the Blazers' terrific coaching staff and develop slowly, out of sight.
NERLENS SCENARIO 3
Noel + SF Robert Covington to Toronto for SF Terrence Ross and 2017 first-round pick (LA Clippers)
Toronto has not replaced the shot-blocking prowess of Bismack Biyombo, who excelled in the playoffs last season against Cleveland but got $72 million from Orlando in the summer. Noel does many of the same things Biz does, and makes a ton less money. The Raps love Jared Sullinger but his stuck-on-the-floor-game isn’t going to alter the sorties of LeBron or Tristan Thompson if Toronto sees Cleveland again in the conference finals. Meanwhile, the bottom has fallen out of Covington’s stroke this season -- he’s shooting 29.5 percent behind the arc. But that’s following two years of a much more robust 36.3 percent combined on 3s; he’d help Toronto play small when it wanted or needed to in the playoffs. And: Colangelo just happens to be the GM that drafted Ross eighth overall in 2012 when he was in Toronto. Stuck behind DeMarre Carroll in the 416, Ross could get additional opportunities (he’s firing at 43 percent on 3s) in Philly. The Raptors also have no need for another guaranteed contract on their books two years from now, especially a likely late first coming from the Clips; the Sixers can always find something to do with it.
NERLENS SCENARIO 4
Noel to Oklahoma City for C Joffrey Lauvergne, G Cameron Payne, F Josh Huestis
It’s the kind of deal Thunder GM Sam Presti loves: getting an asset with upside. Noel wouldn’t start ahead of Steven Adams, but you could see him being able to play with the defensively challenged Enes Kanter off the bench. And this wouldn’t be an idle trade for the 76ers; Payne is a former first-rounder just coming off of injury this year who could be a future starter for a team that doesn’t have Russell Westbrook on the ball. Huestis has little chance for playing time in OKC with first-rounder Domantis Sabonis already locked in as the starter at the four; he wouldn’t start in Philly, either, but at least he’d probably get on the floor rather than shuttle back and forth to his D-League team.
… AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER
In our hearts, always. From Penny Baker:
The "written memories" tribute of Craig was FANTASTIC! I appreciate all of your work and efforts.
I wish and hope that the emblem "SagerStrong" can somehow be included on all of the NBA uniforms-league wide-forever. Maybe on a shoulder as if Craig is standing there guiding each player.
Thanks, Penny. While it would indeed be an incredible tribute to Craig to have his hashtag permanently visible, I’m guessing those uniform patches are far too valuable as future revenue streams for teams to be utilized the way you’ve suggested. I’m sure we’ll see #SagerStrong in any number of places around the league in future years, though. I can’t tell you how many players, coaches and fans asked about Craig in the last year-plus. He was truly loved by the NBA community.
Blame the Monstars. From Eric Webb:
Would you (personally) put Blake Griffin on a minutes restriction to save him for the playoffs if you were Doc?
He already is on a restriction of sorts, Eric. It’s not enumerated publicly, but the Clippers’ medical staff has already held Griffin out of a couple of games this season when his “loads” (the various stresses on his body, determined through the use of wearables and other technologies that monitor such things and are increasingly accurate forecasters of potential injury) were getting high. But, to your question: I’m sure he’ll be limited minutes-wise when he returns for the remainder of the regular season, whether formally or informally.
Would They Cast a Paul Over the Proceedings? From Ben Moore:
My question is about my hometown Atlanta Hawks: Do you see them trading Paul Millsap in the coming month or so if they continue to stay near the bottom of the East standings?
No. Millsap is their most versatile player, and if Dwight Howard’s back continues to cause him to miss the occasional game or games, I think Mike Budenholzer would rather have Paul to plug in than Mike Muscala (not that Muscala has been bad; far from it). The way Bud wants to play, even with Howard, you need multiple players who can pass and shoot, and Paul’s the best he has by far. Not to mention that Millsap will be a highly sought-after free agent next summer; I’d be surprised if too many teams offered too much now knowing they can get a shot at him in seven months and not have to give the Hawks anything.
Send your questions, comments, and other holiday classics that can be improved by The Big Man to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is funny, thought-provoking or snarky, we just might publish it!
(Last week’s averages in parenthesis)
1) Russell Westbrook (41 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 10 apg, .477 FG, .875 FT): When Tommy Heinsohn, who’s never met a Celtics opponent he had much use for, doesn’t blame the refs for a Boston loss and gives you all the credit, as he did after Westbrook’s 14th triple-double of the season Friday, you’re doing real work.
2) LeBron James (28.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 5.8 apg, .494 FG, .700 FT): Goes all John Beresford Tipton on the family that won $1.3 million on his new executive produced game show, “The Wall.” (Kids! Ask your great-grandparents who John Beresford Tipton was!)
3) James Harden (24.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 12.7 apg, .421 FG, .857 FT): Asked his teammate Patrick Beverley how he would defend Harden if he were on another team. “Can’t really say,” he replied. “Someone might take my secrets.”
4) Kevin Durant (29 ppg, 9.3 rpg, .3.5 apg, .538 FG, .929 FT): Dubs' loss to Cavs Sunday shouldn’t overshadow how devastating KD was -- and how big a problem Cleveland will have checking him if these teams complete The Finals Trilogy in June.
5) Kawhi Leonard (26.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.8 apg, 468 FG, .907 FT): The Bulls’ Jimmy Butler the latest visitor to Kawhi Island (19 points, on 19 shots) Sunday.
BY THE NUMBERS
7 -- Statues that will be outside of Staples Center after the latest one honoring Shaquille O’Neal is unveiled March 24. Shaq’s bronze statue will join those of former Lakers Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West, along with longtime broadcast Chick Hearn, NHL Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky and boxer Oscar De La Hoya. According to the Lakers, Shaq’s statue will be nine feet tall, weigh 1,200 pounds and be suspended 10 feet above the ground outside Staples.
2 -- Remaining existing NBA franchises -- Charlotte and Memphis -- which have yet to play in a Christmas Day game. The Timberwolves played in their first one in franchise history yesterday against Oklahoma City. At the other end of the spectrum, the Knicks played in their NBA-high 51st Christmas Day game yesterday, against Boston.
5 -- Players that have scored 50 or more points in a game this season -- Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Klay Thompson, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, who did it last Tuesday with 55 in Portland. The single-season record for players who scored 50 or more in a game, per the NBA, is eight, set in 1989-90. The list, per me: Larry Bird (50, vs. Atlanta); Patrick Ewing (51, vs. Boston); San Antonio’s Terry Cummings (52, vs. Charlotte); Hakeem Olajuwon (52, vs. Denver); Sonics (sniff) guard Dale Ellis (53, vs. Milwaukee), Phoenix’s Tom Chambers (60, vs. Seattle [sniff]); Karl Malone (61, vs. Milwaukee) and one Michael Jeffrey Jordan, who set his career scoring high on March 28, 1990, with a cool 69 points in an overtime win over Cleveland.
I’M FEELIN’ …
1) I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas, or will or are having a Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanzaa or however you celebrate the season. And best wishes to all for a Happy 2017. Speaking for myself, I’ve never been so glad to see the previous 12 months disappear into the past. Good riddance.
2) We were all emotional last week at Sager’s memorial, but we were all so, so impressed with how incredible Sages’ oldest kids carried themselves and remembered their dad -- honestly, with humor, with exasperation and with love. I knew how proud Craig was of all of his children, and with good reason.
3) Incredible read from John Branch at the New York Times on the forces that have shaped Steve Kerr’s worldview, including the assassination of his father, Malcolm Kerr, the former president of the American University of Beirut, in 1984.
4) Dirk Nowitzki has always put life in perspective, and does so, quietly, most every day of his life. This is yet another example.
5) How can I put this in a way where I’m clearly understood? I support Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette’s decisions to skip their respective bowl games for their respective colleges to prepare for the NFL and protect themselves from further injury while playing for no salary 10 trillion percent. Hope that’s not a murky position.
NOT FEELIN’ …
1) I will always argue in favor of knowledgeable media voting for the league’s various awards. But I don’t think the media needs to be involved in voting for All-Star Game starters. The All-Star Game is an exhibition, for the fans. As such, the fans should be allowed to pick who they want to see play and not have their votes diluted by media or by players, who will also now have a say in the choices. I understand when players decry their non-involvement in picking the MVP and other awards; if the league thinks the players should be involved in picking the end-of-year awards, I’d have no problem with that. But I just think this is one area the media should steer clear of.
2) Please don’t say the Clippers are better without Blake Griffin. Please. You’re telling on yourself, as my friend Bomani Jones says.
3) What’s a guy gotta do to get a little peace and quiet while he shoots a free throw?
4) I played “Father Figure” in my car about six trillion times through 1988, driving to the next story when I was covering everything for The Washington Post. It is reminiscent of a special time in my life, when I was young and thought I could conquer the world -- or scared out of my gourd that I would never be good enough. Not sure which. But this song kept me company. I will always be thankful to George Michael for that. RIP.
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