It didn’t take long for the logjam in Philadelphia’s frontcourt to go south. The 76ers had been largely shielded from their inevitable fate for the first 20 games of the season as 22-year-old Nerlens Noel rehabilitated from a knee injury out of sight and out of mind. Now that the third-year veteran is back and able to play, he has expressed frustration with the conditions to which he’s returned.
Not only is Noel being used less than he had been in his first two seasons (30.8 and 29.3 MPG, respectively), he’s been plugged in the lineup alongside other big men like Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor.
“I just want to play basketball,” Noel told CSN Philly’s Jessica Camerato after playing eight minutes in a loss to the Lakers. “I’m not an eight-minute player so I don’t know what that’s about. […] I need to be on the court playing basketball. I think I’m too good to be playing eight minutes. Like, no, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. That’s crazy. They need to figure this s–t out.”
Throughout the first month and a half of the 2016/17 campaign, Noel’s absence allowed head coach Brett Brown to utilize various combinations of other power forwards and centers without having to balance this final piece. Now that Noel’s back, however, players like Richaun Holmes and Dario Saric, too, have seen their roles adjusted. Holmes saw a DNP-CD Friday, while Saric has been shifted down to small forward.
Displeasure with the club’s new rotation doesn’t seem limited to just Noel, either. Rookie Embiid has voiced his own concerns with the modified rotation. As Philadelphia Magazine’s Derek Bodner tweeted Friday night, Embiid expressed subtle displeasure with the defensive effort of his teammates after the loss and, per Camerato, he wasn’t pleased with his own performance “standing on the perimeter” in Wednesday’s loss to the Raptors either.
The Noel comments serves as the latest example that something appears likely to give in Philadelphia, whether that means the club limits Noel’s playing time in an effort to showcase and eventually trade Okafor, or – more likely – to just deal Noel, as has been rumored for months. Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler speculates that two of the most likely trade partners for Noel would be the Raptors or Wizards.