Nerlens Noel walked up to the Sixers podium for media day on Monday with a different attitude than we’re accustomed to seeing. First, there were subtle signs that Noel was unhappy. Instead of representing the team he plays for with his attire like other teammates, Noel had on a dark National Basketball Players Association t-shirt; his usual flat top hairstyle had been changed to short dreadlocks.
The frustration that came out of Noel’s mouth at the press conference was a telling sign that his desire to play in Philadelphia could be in jeopardy.
“I don’t see a way it can work,” Noel said about the Sixers center situation. “It’s just a logjam. You have three young talented centers that can play 30-plus minutes a night. No three centers can play 30 minutes a night. So, that’s that.”
Noel is referring to teammates Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor. Embiid, the third pick in the 2014 NBA draft, is expected to start at center for the 2016-17 season if his health provides. He’s missed the past two seasons due to two separate surgeries on his right foot.
Okafor had a promising rookie year last season where he averaged 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks, splitting time with Noel at center and power forward.
With top pick Ben Simmons and international phenom Dario Saric joining an already crowded front court, figuring out how to distribute minutes properly will be a problem for coach Brett Brown.
“I think Nerlens did a pretty good job sizing up what we have,” Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo said, referring to the center logjam. “I don’t know if I was affected at all by Nerlens’ comments or the players were affected at all.”
Noel averaged 11.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.8 steals last season for the Sixers. He’s known as a defensive stalwart throughout the NBA and will be a restricted free agent after this season. At the age of just 22, he’s the longest-tenured player on the Sixers roster. He’s rightfully frustrated by his current situation.
“Things need to get situated,” Noel said. “I think things obviously need to be moved around, someone needs to be moved around.”
The Sixers begin preseason on Tuesday against the Boston Celtics. The game will air locally at 7 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet.