In October, Brett Brown told media that Noel's rehab was going "slow" and that it was likely he wouldn't play this season.
On January 15, however, team general manager Sam Hinkie said in a statement on the team's website that Noel had been cleared to "participate in limited on-court work." He would go on to say that there were still many hurdles for Noel to get on the court in the 2013-2014 season, but that didn't stop people from wondering if they'd see him on the court.
If Noel can completely heal and get on the court this season, there are positives for his return.
Philadelphia has thrust fellow rookie Michael Carter-Williams right into the fire as a starter this season. Carter-Williams has flourished in the role and is the top candidate for Rookie of the Year honors. Allowing Noel to get accustomed to the play of the NBA could prove beneficial down the road.
Also, not only does Noel need to get used to play in the NBA, but he also needs to get used to playing with his teammates. He and Carter-Williams seem to be the cornerstones of the team's rebuild, and the sooner those two can get on the same page, the better.
Along the same lines, before Philadelphia makes future decisions on whether players like Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner, and Spencer Hawes it might be helpful to see how they play along Noel. Putting Noel in the lineup may move the others to more beneficial spots on the floor.
Philadelphia is only four games out of the playoffs at this point in time. Getting in the lottery could help it land a higher draft pick, but if Noel can help the team play better basketball that ultimately is the goal.
Still, keeping Noel out of action is the safe way to play things.
There's no rush to bring him back to action. While only four games out of the final playoff spot, there are also only two teams in the East with worse records. They also aren't playing terribly well as of late, losing seven of their last nine games. Noel may help a bit, but he wouldn't necessarily help the poor three-point shooting, turnovers, and a thin bench.
Philadelphia's coaching staff wouldn't want Noel to rush back and risk re-injuring himself. Many teams have had their star rookies or players sit out an entire season, like Chicago with Derrick Rose and the Los Angeles Clippers with Blake Griffin in his rookie year.
The biggest reason to keep him out, however, may be the current work they are doing with him on his shooting. All season long, Brown has been working with Noel on completely rebuilding his entire shot. The two have started at square one in the aim of improving his free throws and jump shots.
Noel not playing has allowed them the time to do this. He also can focus on that without worrying about other on-court things right now.
"Makeovers can't happen until the offseason. You can't just blow up somebody's shot in the middle of the year or the start of the year because there is not enough time and you want them to experience success," Brown said in a Dei Lynam article on CSNPhilly.com.
Not playing is allowing Noel to improve his game without the stresses of wins and losses. He can work at his own pace.
The 76ers are rebuilding this season and will still be rebuilding next season. For that reason, there really is no need to rush Noel back onto the court this season. Let him take his time and do his rehab the right way.
Phil Shore lives in New Jersey and is the creator and editor of Shore Thing Sports blog. He's been published in The Boston Globe, Philly.com, FoxSoccer.com, LaxMagazine.com and New England Lacrosse Journal.
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