The Philadelphia 76ers traded center Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks for a top-18 protected first-round pick in 2017, center Andrew Bogut (who the 76ers will likely buy out) and second-year forward Justin Anderson. It was a surprising move for Philadelphia — one that could end up coming back to bite them.
The Sixers were expected to deal a big man prior to the trade deadline at 3 p.m. EST on Thursday, but Jahlil Okafor was the player most likely to be sent elsewhere. Instead, Noel was traded for a return that doesn’t seem adequate.
In all likelihood, the first-round pick will not convey and Philadelphia will end up with a 2017 second-round pick and a 2018 second-round pick from the Mavericks, along with Anderson.
The Sixers have been trying to trade Okafor for a long time but never pulled the trigger on a deal. Noel’s value in the modern NBA is much higher than Okafor’s, which made him easier to trade as the clock ticked down on the day of the deadline.
Philadelphia did not get a good enough package for Noel. Though he was a restricted free agent after the season, and Philadelphia may not have wanted to pay him market value, I would’ve advocated for them to retain him despite the cost.
If the team officially decided they were not going to re-sign Noel, they could have potentially negotiated a better trade from another team. The Sixers were reportedly interested in a defensive-minded guard like Avery Bradley, and the Celtics certainly could use a rim protector like Noel.
Did Bryan Colangelo and the Sixers trade Noel to the Mavericks simply for the sake of making a deal?
I can’t answer that question for sure, but it seems to be the case. The logjam at center wasn’t working, which has been clear for a while, but Okafor should’ve been the one traded.
Though they likely wouldn’t have even gotten a protected first-round pick for Okafor at this point, getting even less value in a trade but keeping Noel would’ve been a net win for the Sixers. By the way, there was a report that Philadelphia could’ve gotten a protected first just last week from New Orleans.
The Sixers’ potential franchise cornerstone, Joel Embiid, has had injury issues dating back to his time at Kansas. He is currently recovering from a partially-torn meniscus. Embiid also infamously broke his Navicular bone in his right foot prior to the 2015 NBA Draft, which kept him off the court for two years.
Noel could’ve been a player the Sixers kept around as a rotational piece, and as someone who could protect Philadelphia if Embiid went down with a long-term injury. Now, they will resort to Okafor and Richaun Holmes.
Some defenders of the trade think Holmes could produce similarly to Noel. Noel has played 70 more minutes than Holmes this year, but their per 36 minutes stats are actually pretty similar.
Noel is averaging 16.4 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.7 steals, 1.7 blocks, 1.9 assists and 1.9 turnovers per 36 minutes this year, while Holmes is averaging 14.9 points, 9.6 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 1.7 blocks and 2.0 turnovers per 36 minutes. Noel does have a significantly better Player Efficiency Rating and True Shooting Percentage than Holmes, though.
If Holmes can be 85 percent of Noel, this trade makes much more sense. I just don’t feel comfortable banking on that.
Even if that ends up being the case, and Holmes excels in an expanded role, couldn’t they have gotten more for Noel?
It was unlikely that the Celtics would’ve been willing to give up Bradley, but they have had reported interest in Noel for over a year. It’s hard to imagine they couldn’t have offered more than the Mavericks did for Noel, with all of the assets Boston has.
Noel will likely never be a superstar, but he could have been a solid defensive role player for the Sixers when Embiid is healthy. Noel and Embiid only got to play EIGHT total minutes together this season, but now we’ll never know if they could’ve shared the floor for a few minutes each game.
It’s not the crazy to think two big men who can run the floor and protect the rim, one who can shoot outside the paint and one who can dive to the basket on pick-and-rolls, could possibly coexist.
Noel could get a max offer sheet in free agency, but the Sixers could’ve matched any deal if they wanted to retain him. While it’s hard to argue Noel’s worth over $20 million dollars a year while playing less than 20 minutes a game, his value as a potential fill-in for Embiid is hard to quantify.
Hopes are that Embiid can remain on the floor in coming years, but history shows us that he tends to get sidelined frequently. Maybe the Sixers will try to keep him on a minutes restriction even into next season, which would’ve given Noel extended time as well.
If Embiid proved he could stay healthy for a year or two, then Philadelphia could’ve traded Noel. Though he would be less attractive to other teams if he was on a max deal, they likely could’ve gotten the same type of return value for him that they got right now. In this scenario, they would also have a viable replacement if Embiid went down for an extended period of time.
Noel wasn’t the player that should’ve been traded at the deadline by Philadelphia, and especially not for two second-round picks and Anderson. The former Virginia player could end up being a solid three point shooter and defender, but the Sixers should’ve said, “We want a first-round pick for Noel or no deal.”
This trade would be much more sensible if the protection on the Mavericks’ first-round pick was reduced in 2018, instead of simply turning into two second-round picks.
If Embiid stays healthy over the course of his career, this will be a non-issue in the legacy of this Sixers’ team. But remember, championship windows are usually short. If Philadelphia has Ben Simmons, Embiid, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz/Malik Monk/or whoever they pick this draft, and a good wing acquired in free agency — they can be title contenders.
If that same scenario transpires but Embiid goes down for the season and Okafor is his primary replacement, their chances of winning a championship that year evaporate. Noel could have, maybe, come in and helped them continue to play at an elite level.
The Sixers may decide to deal Okafor on draft night this offseason and go all-in on Embiid. That makes a bit more sense, but it would be even more practical to have a effective replacement, like Noel, for a player with a detailed injury history, like Embiid.