Noel laments ‘log jam’ in front­court

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Jack Mc­Caf­fery jm­c­caf­fery@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @Jack­McCaf­fery on Twit­ter

CAM­DEN, N.J. >> El­ton Brand has been around the NBA since 1999, fight­ing through screens and in­juries, see­ing suc­cess and strug­gle, un­der­stand­ing bas­ket­ball and what to ex­pect next. So there he was Mon­day, a day be­fore the 76ers would be­gin train­ing camp, read­ing the next play. “Blood bath,” he said. That’s how Brand sees the com­pe­ti­tion for play­ing time, par­tic­u­larly in Brett Brown’s front­court, where three cen­ters and plenty of for­wards will be fight­ing for min­utes. He sees it as a vig­or­ous, spir­ited com­pe­ti­tion. Ner­lens Noel has an­other view. “I don’t see a way,” he said, “of it work­ing.”

Maybe they were say­ing the same thing, the 18th-year, ac­com­plished vet­eran Brand and the fourth-year prospec­tive cen­ter Noel.

Maybe they were both see­ing that a ros­ter with cen­ters Jahlil Okafor, Joel Em­biid and Noel will be­come so crowded that may­hem will oc­cur. Maybe they just had a dif­fer­ent way of de­liv­er­ing the same mes­sage.

Noel’s mes­sage, though, was clear. And it came on a day when the or­ga­ni­za­tion was gath­ered at its won­der­ful, new prac­tice com­plex. The mes­sage: Not ev­ery­thing new is pop­u­lar.

“A log jam,” Noel said. “We have three tal­ented cen­ters who can play 30 min­utes a night. And there is not 30 min­utes a night for all of them.”

The Six­ers won 10 games

last sea­son. If that means they need to re­sort to a strength-in-num­bers at­tack to fill cer­tain spots, it beats the al­ter­na­tive. They’ve tried it with not hav­ing enough play­ers. Didn’t work.

So they will be­gin train­ing camp Tues­day at Stock­ton Univer­sity in Pomona, N.J. with a three-headed mon­ster at cen­ter … em­pha­sis on mon­ster.

“It’s not dis­ap­point­ing, it’s un­der­stand­able,” said Bryan Colan­gelo, the Six­ers’ bas­ket­ball-op­er­a­tions pres­i­dent and GM, of Noel’s views. “Ner­lens did a pretty good job siz­ing up what we have. We have a lot of depth and a lot of tal­ent at that po­si­tion.”

Then, just to make sure Noel un­der­stood the full depth of the is­sue, for some rea­son Colan­gelo stressed,

“And we also have Richaun Holmes, who we are ex­cited about.”

Oh, OK. Make that a ta­ble for four.

So to­gether they’ve built, as their for­mer, cocka­mamie mar­ket­ing plan promised. But is it time al­ready to break it down?

“There is a lot of time for things to work out,” Colan­gelo said. “Some will hap­pen in the pre­sea­son and some may hap­pen in reg­u­lar sea­son. I don’t be­lieve we are on a dead­line. Joel Em­biid has yet to play an NBA game and there may be some lim­i­ta­tions on him. That will be de­ter­mined by our med­i­cal team to see what is ad­vis­able.”

Noel’s wail was not out­ra­geous. He’s right. The Six­ers are too heavy at one po­si­tion. Brown tried last sea­son

to work Okafor and Noel in at the four-spot. Okafor could not step out and cover a stretch-four. And Noel didn’t show the hands to play a for­ward po­si­tion at the of­fen­sive end. They are cen­ters. As is Em­biid.

Em­biid, who has not played in two years fol­low­ing foot trou­ble, and whose only col­lege sea­son ended early with a back prob­lem, will par­tic­i­pate in train­ing camp and says he will play in the pre­sea­son opener, Oct. 4 against Bos­ton in Amherst, Mass. But Colan­gelo said it is not likely that he will be cleared this sea­son to play back-to-back games. So a cou­ple of times a week, Okafor and Noel will have to han­dle the job.

Some­how, that didn’t in­spire Noel to break out Adam Aron’s rusty, old con­fetti

ma­chine to cel­e­brate.

“I don’t think it makes too much sense to come into a sea­son with such a heavy lineup,” he said. Asked if it would be a wait-and-see process, he replied: “I’ve seen a lot over the past three years. So I’m not sur­prised about any­thing.”

There were piles of off­sea­son re­ports that Colan­gelo tried to ease the sit­u­a­tion, mak­ing Noel and per­haps Okafor avail­able. He pre­ferred Mon­day to couch it as lis­ten­ing, not auc­tion­ing. Ei­ther way, noth­ing he lis­tened to made him want to sell, sug­gest­ing that the rest of the league knows the Six­ers have a small prob­lem with big play­ers.

Noel’s carry-on ... which nudged a quickly ig­nored pub­lic-re­la­tions in­tern at me­dia day to pipe up, “One

more ques­tion!” ... did not ease Colan­gelo’s task.

“Ob­vi­ously, I am a real per­son and I can’t sug­ar­coat any­thing,” Noel said. “But I want to em­pha­size how much I love my guys. Jahlil and Joel are two of my clos­est friends. This has noth­ing to do with that. And I love the city of Philadel­phia. We have some of the best fans in the coun­try and they mean ev­ery­thing they say.”

They un­der­stand bas­ket­ball, too. And if so, they un­der­stand the con­cern of Noel, who is not as com­plete a cen­ter as Okafor and does not have the up-side of Em­biid.

“All I’ve got to do is play my game,” he said, “and I’ll be OK re­gard­less.”

Just a lit­tle maybe. bloody,

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