After going through the last few campaigns trying to keep their roster together with Band-Aids and duct-tape, the Philadelphia 76ers have entered full rebuild mode since the end of the past season. As of July 24, 2013, they still are without a bench boss for the squad, with the beginning of training camp slightly more than two months away. The franchise’s new general manager Sam Hinkie, realized that his squad needed to take a few steps back, to become legitimate contenders once again in the Association’s Eastern Conference. So last month the executive rolled the dice, giving up an All-Star point guard, for an injured, unproven big man, who could turn out to become a force for years to come in the NBA.
Hinkie realized that even if the team that he inherited played it’s best injury-free basketball, they would be fortunate to make the NBA Playoffs and their stay in the Post Season would be brief. Sixers fans have witnessed far too much greatness from their club, to settle for sustained mediocrity. So the man who came to the franchise from the Houston Rockets front office, agreed to a trade on the night of the NBA Draft, that sent Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans and received the number six pick in the draft Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel in return.
Even though Noel had surgery in February to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, most NBA observers still expected the big man to be taken with the first pick of last month’s draft, but the Cleveland Cavaliers chose to go with UNLV forward Anthony Bennett instead. Although reports on his progress in rehab have all been positive, concern about the injury caused four more teams about the injury to pass on him.
After thinking they had acquired their franchise center of the future last summer, as they acquired former Los Angeles Lakers All-Star big man Andrew Bynum in a multi-team deal, they were back at square one a year later. Chronic knee pain had kept Bynum on the bench all season and he walked away as a Free Agent on July 1, signing an incentive-laden deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Philadelphia decided that the positives that Noel could bring to the team outweighed the risks and the fact that it would be awhile before he is ready to play in the Association.
The team introduced their new big man to the media on Tuesday according to a report from “Philly.com” and Hinkie acknowledged that if the center was healthy, he never would be showing off his new Sixers uniform. The general manager responded “It’s surely a factor. If it wasn’t a factor, we wouldn’t have been able to get him. I will say that for sure. We wouldn’t have been able to get him with the sixth pick. So we feel fortunate about that.”
Even though Noel is months away from playing, Hinkie could not hide his excitement in talking about his new player on Tuesday. He said “We are excited to add Nerlens to our team. Rim protectors are at a real premium in our league right now. Athletic players have always been at a premium; Nerlens is both. Nerlens is a guy that brings it every possession that he is on the floor and is constantly trying to protect the rim as drivers attack, and is a guy who we think will fit the style of play that we hope to play here in Philadelphia.”
Best case scenario would be Noel getting medical clearance to start practicing in December or January, with him being activated after the All-Star break. However, there is a strong possibility the rookie will not see the floor in a game for the entire campaign, he is a long-term investment for the franchise. If he can start showing the skills on the court that he did for the Wildcats in the 2014-2015 campaign, Sam Hinkie will receive praise in Philadelphia for years to come.