Nerlens Noel on the 76ers' 'silly' glut of big men: 'Something needs to happen'

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5157/" data-ylk="slk:Nerlens Noel">Nerlens Noel</a> looks to the future. (Getty Images)
Nerlens Noel looks to the future. (Getty Images)

The main thing that everybody knows about the Philadelphia 76ers, outside of the fact they’ve been almost unbelievably terrible for the past three years, is that they have too many big men. Their last four NBA drafts have brought back five power forwards and centers, with former Philly general manager Sam Hinkie using top-six picks in three straight first rounds on five men. And yet, despite expectations that new personnel boss Bryan Colangelo would shake up the roster this summer by shipping out one or more of his young bigs — and despite Colangelo himself saying in July that one of the trio of Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid “has to go at some point” — the Sixers are poised to enter camp with a full-to-burstin’ frontcourt … and Noel is done pretending that he’s OK with that.

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Before the 76ers kicked off their training camp on Monday, Noel gave a revealing interview to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“I think it’s just silly . . . this situation that we are in now with three starting centers,” Noel said on the eve of the Sixers’ media day. “With the departure of [former general manager and president] Sam Hinkie, I would have figured that management would be able to get something done this summer.”

The Sixers declined to comment on the matter.

“I think something needs to happen,” Noel said. […] “I feel like it definitely needs to be figured out,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, again, you have three starting-caliber centers. And it’s just not going to work to anybody’s advantage having that on the same team. That’s how I’m looking at it. I’m not opposed to anything, but things need to be situated.”

Noel said he wasn’t speaking negatively about the team’s other starting-caliber centers, [Joel] Embiid and Jahlil Okafor. Nor was he speaking for them.

“Don’t get me wrong. We all get along great on the court and off the court,” Noel said. “But at the end of the day, it’s like having three starting quarterbacks. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Noel also took issue with Colangelo’s recent claim during a visit to The Vertical Podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski that he didn’t shop any of the big men, saying “I know I was shopped” … which might help explain why the 22-year-old Kentucky product sounds so salty.

Colangelo responded Monday by echoing the position he took last Friday when the 76ers opened their new practice facility in Camden, N.J., suggesting that things will work themselves out and saying that, while he gets why Philly’s young defensive ace is frustrated, matters don’t always resolve themselves in the timeframe that players might prefer:

Noel, clearly, was unmoved, and doubled down on his comments when it was his turn to talk to reporters on Monday:

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It’s hard to fault Noel for bristling at the lack of resolution. He was the first of the 76ers’ hoped-for linchpins and he’s the one who’s suffered the most losing with the least benefit, including a rough partnership with Okafor last season that often saw Noel play out-of-position at power forward on offense while continuing to assume a center’s responsibilities on the other end. Moreover, with Okafor coming off an iffy-at-best rookie year that did precious little to assuage concerns that he’d never be able to defend adequately enough to play major minutes in today’s NBA and Embiid having yet to play an NBA second and still existing primarily in our imaginations/fever dreams, Noel’s the only one who’s actually proven anything at this level; as I wrote recently in assessing the Sixers’ jumbled roster, he’s a good defensive center with some chops as a dive man in the pick-and-roll and a lane-filler in transition.

Whatever else we don’t know about the Sixers, we do know that much; he’s shown it, and he’d like to continue showing it. That’s tough to do when you’re looking at a three-way split of 48 minutes a night — power forward minutes should be tough to come by, thanks to the additions of Ben Simmons and Dario Saric — and that’s especially frustrating when you’re about to enter the final year of your rookie contract, and you want to get multiple teams interested in the prospect of paying you obscene gobs of maximum-contract or near-max money.

It’s also hard, though, to fault Colangelo for not immediately rushing for the first move that presented itself. The market for Okafor, a talented interior scorer who looks like he might be a man out of time in a league where bigs have to guard high out on the floor, protect the rim defensively and get out of the paint into space on offense, seems to be cool at best. Embiid hasn’t stepped on the floor in a game since he was a member of the Kansas Jayhawks in the spring of 2014, and the Sixers are going to bring him along as slowly as they can, restricting his minutes and possibly sitting him out of half of back-to-back sets.

Dealing either of them would be hard or inadvisable, depending on your perspective, and dealing Noel — again, the lone somewhat proven NBA commodity in the group — means you’re banking on one guy who might not be able to get on the floor and another who might not be able to stay there. And dealing one of the three early — read: before teams even begin training camp and preseason work, where dysfunction or injury could leave somebody in desperate need of a big man — could eliminate an opportunity at landing a maximum return on Hinkie’s initial investment.

Maybe limiting Embiid’s minutes helps provide enough breathing room in the claustrophobic confines of Philly’s frontcourt rotation to keep everybody happy, and maybe Colangelo will wind up finding the right partner to strike a deal that both balances out the 76ers’ roster and gives each of the three talented young big men room to explore, advance and evolve. Relying on either seems at this point to be a leap of faith, though, and after three years of running to stand still, it sounds like Noel is utterly done with trusting the 76ers’ process.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

Stay connected with Ball Don’t Lie on Twitter @YahooBDL, “Like” BDL on Facebook and follow Dunks Don’t Lie on Tumblr for year-round NBA talk, jokes and more.

– – – – – – –

Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

Stay connected with Ball Don’t Lie on Twitter @YahooBDL, “Like” BDL on Facebook and follow Dunks Don’t Lie on Tumblr for year-round NBA talk, jokes and more.

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