Noel laments ‘log jam’ in frontcourt
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,