The Philadelphia 76ers have been stuck in mediocrity ever since Allen Iverson left, and mediocrity is sugar coating it most of the time. Sam Hinkie took over the Sixers in 2013 and immediately made his mark felt. While watching the 2013 NBA Draft, I think everyone was surprised as Nerlens Noel, once considered the top prospect of the draft, fell outside the top five picks. Even though a lot had to do with a knee injury sustained during his lone season at Kentucky, the two big men taken ahead of him were a project, Alex Len, and a low ceiling player, Cody Zeller, not to mention arguably the worst #1 pick in NBA draft history, Anthony Bennett. I am a Sixers fan, but I also am a fan of exciting basketball. When the Pelicans drafted Noel with the 6th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft, he came off the stage and in his interview said he and 2012 #1 overall pick Anthony Davis were going to have a “Block Party.” I thought this would be exciting basketball, so when trade rumors were floated, I was a little disappointed, until I saw the Sixers were the other team involved. The original trade was rumored to be Jrue Holiday, a 2013 All Star, and a 2014 first round pick for Nerlens Noel, which I was excited about, but when the actual trade was announced, I was ecstatic. Nerlens Noel and the Pelicans’ 2014 first round pick to for Jrue Holiday and the Sixers’ 42nd pick in the 2013 draft (Pierre Jackson). Sam Hinkie instantly became my new hero, but in doing so he hit the reset button on the Sixers.
Holiday has missed a lot of time with injuries and when he has played it has not been at an All Star level and Jackson is in the D-League, so with the Sixers getting Nerlens Noel and a pick that turned into Dario Saric, I would call the Sixers the winners of this trade. If nothing else, keeping Holiday may have caused the Sixers to finish 8th to 10th in the East, making the selections of Embiid and Simmons only a fantasy. With Noel a restricted free agent after the season, Jackson in the D-League and Holiday an unrestricted free agent after this season, Saric could potentially be the only player that was part of this trade still on the Sixers or Pelicans after this year. Noel has turned into a quality NBA player in the mold of Tyson Chandler, but the problem with him is the Sixers roster. With 3 other serviceable centers on the roster in Jahlil Okafor, Joel Embiid and Richaun Holmes, all of whom are under team control on rookie scale contracts though at least 2018, Noel is the lost one in the rotation. Embiid is the future of the Sixers, along with Ben Simmons, so he isn’t going anywhere. Okafor is under team control on a rookie deal through the end of the 2019 season and seems to be happier with the Sixers. Holmes holds less trade value, along with the fact that Coach Brett Brown seems to be fonder of Embiid, Okafor and Holmes. Noel seems like the one who will be traded. This is not groundbreaking news, especially after Noel publicly vented his frustrations, coupled with Brown stating that Noel will not be part of the regular rotation. I was always for the trade of Okafor, not Noel. An athletic defensive presence has more of a place in today’s NBA than a little to no defense, post up center, especially when thinking of the fit next to Embiid. I picture Okafor becoming a more expensive version of what Enes Kanter is doing for the Thunder. But after Noel’s comments this week, I think the Sixers will just get the disgruntled Noel out of this young and impressionable locker room. Let me be clear that I think Noel is the long term better fit and would so much rather see Okafor go somewhere he can be one of that team’s offensive centerpieces (ie. Trade Okafor to Charlotte).
I do not think it is a question of if Noel will be traded, but when. I think the question is what can they get in return for him? Teams know that the Sixers need to move one of their centers, and they know that Noel is owed a raise after this year. The Sixers will probably not spend that kind of money on a 3rd string center, neither of which gives the Sixers much bargaining power. Teams that would trade for Noel fall in two categories: 1. Contenders that need a rebounding and rim protecting center who will probably use him as a half season rental and probably don’t have much to offer. 2. Non-contenders who need a center with a lot to offer, but who also concede that they are not winning a championship this year anyway. Noel might help them win a few more games, hurting their chances at a higher pick next season, and why offer anything when you know you can go out and get him this summer anyway? The only way a non-contending team is giving anything up for Noel is if he is a large part of their future plans, and they want to be able to match any offer a different team gives them. I don’t see any team viewing Noel as that integral or they would have traded for him already.
With all of that said, let’s take a look at a few teams that may trade for Noel. I have limited teams to those that fall into the two categories mentioned above. I also left off teams that would probably never offer anything of worth. As much as the Cavs would love Noel for their Finals run, I highly doubt Mike Dunleavy would get it done. A team like the Heat may have the pieces to trade for him, and Noel could potentially help, yes, but are they really going to be paying both Hassan Whiteside and Noel next year? Probably not. The Sixers have proven that this arrangement doesn’t work and other teams will not purposely put themselves in a similar situation.
Sixers receive: Terry Rozier, Cleveland’s 2017 second round pick (from Boston)
Celtics Receive: Nerlens Noel
Why the Sixers do this trade: With Jerryd Bayless out for the year and Sergio Rodriquez clearly not the long-term answer at point guard, the Sixers could use an upgrade. Ben Simmons should return from injury right around the time most trades will be made, and he will take care of a lot of ball handling duties. So Rozier being able to play alongside of Simmons and taking care of the opposing point guard on defense is integral. They could work well together, even if his catch and shoot ability aren’t ideal.
Why the Sixers don’t do this trade: Noel probably poses more trade value and the Cleveland 2nd round pick should be pick #55-60, so they may hold out for a better trade.
Why the Celtics do this trade: The Celtics are lacking an interior presence to crash the boards and protect the rim. Al Horford is a great player, but ideally he is not defending the big centers of the league, such as DeMarcus Cousins or Dwight Howard. Noel gives the Celtics someone to put down low and lets Horford save his energy and focus on the offensive end. In addition, Noel should slot in fine in the frontcourt with either Olynyk or Horford.
Why the Celtics don’t do this trade: The Celtics either need to feel confident that Noel can get them past the Cavs to the Finals, or know they are willing to pay him in the offseason. Due to many of their better players being on below-market value deals, they are one of the few contenders who could potentially re-sign Noel during the 2017 offseason. Rozier is under contract on a rookie deal through the end of the 2019 season, so the Celtics may not want to give that up for a half season rental.
Sixers receive: Tyler Zeller*, Boston’s 2018 first round pick, Top 10 protected
Celtics Receive: Nerlens Noel
*Due to recently signed restrictions, Tyler Zeller cannot be traded until January 15th
Why the Sixers do this trade: The first rounder. The Celtics would need a lot of injuries to have their pick fall within the top 10, so it should be conveyed in 2018.
Why the Sixers don’t do this trade: They get an offer with a different team’s first rounder that will either be this year, or they believe it will be a higher pick.
Why the Celtics do this trade: See above. Getting rid of Zeller’s salary frees up cap room for them to resign Noel after the year.
Why the Celtics don’t do this trade: Tyler Zeller was just recently re-signed with the Celtics, so there has to be something the Celtics like in Zeller, even though he is only playing about 10 minutes a game. If for some reason the Celtics want to keep Zeller, Amir Johnson or Jonas Jerebko could both work in this scenario as the Sixers are really coveting the first rounder. Johnson and Jerebko just slot in better next to Noel, whereas Zeller’s skillset would be pretty redundant.
Sixers receive: Terrence Ross, Clippers 2017 first round pick (from Toronto)
Raptors receive: Nerlens Noel, Hollis Thompson
Why the Sixers do this trade: Terrence Ross would give the Sixers an athletic wing that can shoot. I could see Ross developing into a JR Smith type role later in his career. He would be able to play the 2 or 3 and is under a reasonable contract through the end of 2019. Down the line, Ross would also be easy to trade, if the Sixers ever need the cap room. The Clippers pick gives them a late 2017 first round pick in what should/promises to be a deep draft class.
Why the Sixers don’t do this trade: I think that, if the Raptors were to offer this deal, the Sixers would take it. The only reason they may not is the hope of getting a higher first round pick.
Why the Raptors do this trade: As probably the biggest challengers to the Cavs, they are lacking a rim protector; someone who would possibly force LeBron and Kyrie take a few more jump shots. With Jonas Valanciunas having a deep injury history, the Raptors could always use a player who could start in his place, as Bismack Biyombo did last year. Hollis Thompson gives them a wing who could take up some of Ross’ minutes.
Why the Raptors don’t do this trade: If the Raptors could somehow merge Valanciunas and Noel, they would have a close to perfect center. Is there enough minutes to go around to all their big men and would they be willing to shell out the money to Noel after the season? They didn’t with Biyombo, so I don’t think they would with Noel, either. The Raptors have their own 2017 first round pick and they also acquired the Clippers’ 2017 first round draft pick, protected selections 1 to 14, from the Greivis Vasquez trade, both of which should be late first rounders. I think these two first rounders could make the Sixers bite without having to give up Ross but all the younger Raptors who they could match salary with I see them wanting to keep. The Raptors seem like one of the best fits to me, I just don’t know if they can find something mutually beneficial.
Two other trades could potentially work, but I don’t think the Raptors would do them. If they can somehow find a way to send what to them is players wasting away on the bench to match salaries along with the two first rounders, I think it would happen. Everyone the Raptors have that works financially is too valuable to them and all the guys not playing as much are all pretty good prospects on rookie scale deals.
Sixers Receive: DeMarre Carroll, Clippers 2017 first round pick, Raptors 2017 first round pick, both top 20 protected
Raptors Receive: Nerlens Noel, Gerald Henderson
Sixers receive: Jared Sullinger Clippers 2017 first round pick, Raptors 2017 first round pick, both top 20 protected
Raptors Receive: Nerlens Noel, Hollis Thompson, Sixers 2018 second round pick
Sixers receive: Roy Hibbert, Charlotte’s 2017 first round pick, lottery protected
Hornets receive: Nerlens Noel
Why the Sixers do this trade: Roy Hibbert probably would never even see the floor for the Sixers. I would expect them to buy him out. This is all about the first rounder.
Why the Sixers don’t do this trade: Like before, it would just be to hold out for a better pick, but there is a solid chance this is the best pick the Sixers can get. If the season ended right now, it would be the 20th pick in the draft.
Why the Hornets do this trade: Nicolas Batum is the leading rebounder for the Hornets with 7.5 a game and Cody Zeller, who by no means is a rim protector, is leading the team in blocks with 1.16 a game. I would expect Noel to come in and be the leader in both of those stats in a short time. He would be an all around better version of Roy Hibbert and could also run the floor with this young athletic team. The Hornets have enough shooters to surround Noel with so they can play one in, four out when Noel is on the court. They could dump some salary in Spencer Hawes, if they want to make some cap room to resign Noel in the offseason.
Why the Hornets don’t do this trade: In what is supposed to be one of the deepest drafts in memory and first rounders holding more value than ever, due to the low cap hits associated with each pick, they may hold too much value in this pick to give it up. With Marco Belinelli getting more playing time than Jeremy Lamb this year, the Hornets may try to hold onto their picks and take advantage of the Sixers desperation for any competent wings and offer Lamb for Noel, straight up.
New Orleans Pelicans:
Sixers receive: Omer Asik, Pelicans first round pick, lottery protected in 2017, top five protected in 2018
New Orleans receives: Nerlens Noel
Why the Sixers do this trade: If Hinkie was still the GM, I would say the Sixers would do it, but I do not see them willing to take on Asik’s contract, no matter how good the pick could end up. The only reason they might is because they will not need to pay Ben Simmons big money until the offseason, after the Asik deal expires, and the Sixers front office should have enough to pay Embiid the year before.
Why the Sixers don’t do this trade: The protections on this are what kill this trade. To take on the remaining years of Asik’s contract, which will be about $40 million over the next four years, if he picks up his option, is a ton of money for someone who does not clear up the frontcourt jam the Sixers have.
Why the Pelicans do this trade: Nerlens Noel comes full circle and goes back to the team that originally drafted him. The Pelicans need anyone they can call a foundation piece next to Anthony Davis. If they do not, expect a similar situation to all the other small market stars whose teams did not do enough to keep them there and the player then demanded a trade. (ex. Kevin Love, Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, soon-to-be DeMarcus Cousins.) Noel would let Davis roam the perimeter more and not put as much strain on his injury plagued body by having to play with all the big men down low, but both Davis and Noel are athletic enough that they can switch onto most frontcourt players in the NBA. It really would be the “block party,” Noel talked about when he was first drafted.
Why the Pelicans don’t do this trade: If I were New Orleans, I would do anything to get rid of Asik’s nightmare of a contract. Put protections on the pick to make sure you keep it this year, if it is in the lottery and try to get one more foundation piece and give away the pick next year, when you are hopefully in the playoffs. Knowing they are far away from a title, they might not want to give away any picks. If this is the case, they might try a Buddy Hield for Nerlens Noel and a second rounder or two, which I think the Sixers would give some thought to as well.
Sixers Receive: Nikola Mirotic
Bulls Receive: Nerlens Noel
Why the Sixers do this trade: This is more just a trade to get two players who do not seem to be in their respective team’s long-term plans. Noel is clearly unhappy and Mirotic, with two DNP-CD this past week and missing a walkthrough, a once promising player may just need a new home. They are both on expiring contracts, so both teams can let these players walk after the year, if it does not work out with no long term ramifications.
Why the Sixers don’t do this trade: With Ersan Ilyasova on the team currently and possessing a similar skill set, they do not need Mirotic. This trade is more of a last resort, if they truly can get nothing of value for Noel and just want him out of their locker room, so he does not hurt the development of the rest of the team.
Why the Bulls do this trade: With Mirotic not being a fit on the Bulls’ team at the moment, shipping him out for a solid rim protector to be a back up and injury insurance policy seems like a decent plan, even if it is only a half season rental. The veteran leadership in the locker room could help keep Noel in check and Bobby Portis and Doug McDermott could fill the loss of Mirotic. They each seem deserving of more minutes anyway.
Why the Bulls don’t do this trade: The past couple of weeks with Mirotic have just been a hiccup and they value his stretch 4 potential in the playoffs too much. It doesn’t help that Noel currently has a bad attitude, but I believe that will fix itself with a change of scenery.
Prediction: Nerlens Noel will end up in New Orleans in a trade that is centered around a New Orleans first round pick heavily protected in 2017 that is more likely to be conveyed in 2018.