Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel have been the subjects of trade rumors for most of the year, and there’s still a good chance that one of the two players will be moved in advance of this season’s trade deadline. According to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, however, the Sixers “don’t have much desire” to trade Okafor. Kyler tweets that Noel is the more likely trade candidate, as he and the team are “not on the same page at all.”
While Okafor hasn’t said a whole lot about the logjam at center in Philadelphia, Noel referred to the situation as “silly” prior to the start of training camp in the fall, expressing surprise that the front office hadn’t addressed the club’s crowded depth chart by making a trade in the summer. The Sixers, meanwhile, weren’t entirely happy that Noel decided to stay in Massachusetts to work out this summer, according to Bob Cooney of The Philadelphia Daily News. Shortly after he reported to camp, the 22-year-old felt discomfort in his knee, and that issue has kept him out of action ever since.
So far this season, with Noel sidelined due to that knee injury and Okafor and Joel Embiid on minutes limits, the Sixers’ center logjam hasn’t been a major issue. But Noel is getting closer to returning to action, and Okafor’s minutes restrictions have been lifted, so the competition for playing time in the frontcourt is about to heat up, as Cooney writes.
Noel’s return isn’t imminent, but it could happen in December, at which point the team will have to determine how he fits into a frontcourt rotation that also features Richaun Holmes. As Kyler tweets, the fourth-year big man – who will be playing for a potential payday this season – would prefer a situation where he has a more prominent role, rather than one where he splits time with Embiid.
Although Noel’s contract is up in 2017, he’ll be eligible for restricted free agency, meaning any team that trades for him this year would have a leg up to keep him. Noel’s contract situation may provide more incentive for the Sixers to move him, since the team would have to either re-sign him to a huge deal or lose him for nothing if they don’t deal him by this year’s deadline. Okafor, on the other hand, will remain on his rookie contract through the 2018/19 season.