How Do You Solve a Problem Like Nerlens?

Drafting the best player available was a large part of the Philadelphia 76ers thought process throughout the Sam Hinkie era. That thinking was intensified by the availability and reliability of the players they drafted. Nerlens Noel missed a full season due to injury, Joel Embiid missed two, and Dario Saric remained in Europe. These issues not only left openings throughout the roster, but delayed player development and hampered the Sixers’ ability to asses their assets.

With Embiid’s future especially up in the air, the risk of drafting a third big man didn’t seem as risky, or at least as imminent. Now though, the cows have come home, and the Sixers have three healthy giants on the roster, all drafted in the top six of the draft (not to mention Richaun Holmes, a 2nd round sleeper absolutely deserving of rotation minutes). The resulting logjam has caused headaches for the players involved, the team dealing with it, and fans watching along. No one has made more of a stink about this than Nerlens Noel. After playing only eight minutes in a game last week, he was frank with the media and expressed an interest in more playing time.

He’s certainly not wrong. He has shown flashes of defensive brilliance in his two healthy NBA seasons and has been at least competent offensively when paired with real pro point guards. He has, at the very least, shown as much promise as Jahlil Okafor and would likely fit better next to Joel Embiid than Okafor could (or has in limited minutes). Okafor, however, will play at his rookie salary for another two years after this season, while Noel will be a restricted free agent this summer. In what may be considered a difficult basketball decision, the front office may be allowing contract status to make the decision for them.

It seems then, that for all parties involved, trading Noel to another club would solve many of the issues. Trading Okafor would as well, but likely fetches lesser return and with the team clearly gunning to make a trade, leverage is nonexistent and return will be diminished in either case. For whatever reason, the front office seems much more poised to trade Noel than pay him this summer. Either would be preferred to allowing a potentially elite rim protector to walk away from Philadelphia.

That being said, the market for Noel throughout the league seems paltry at best. Available big men can be found throughout the NBA, though Nerlens Noel is priced to move. With that in mind, here are three possible destinations and a trade the Sixers should accept from each.

Portland Trailblazers


No team makes a better fit on paper than Portland. They are in the need of a rim protector in the worst way. The problem could be what they have to offer. After Damian Lillard, the cast of characters populating the Trailblazers’ backcourt have their issues. CJ McCollum is likely not on the move, or would cost a king’s ransom. The Sixers have the pieces to make a move that big, but Portland may want win now pieces, rather than receive the draft assets and young players Philly can offer. Evan Turner signed a monster contract and Sixers fans would burn down the Wells Fargo Center before allowing him to return. Allen Crabbe also got paid huge money, yet can’t be traded until mid-January. The Sixers could be interested in Crabbe, but can’t act yet.

Or, we could try the little three teamer above. The Blazers have had success with Al Farouq Aminu at the four spot and can play Noah Vonleh, Myers Leonard, or Moe Harkless in that position as well. That makes the reliable Ed Davis expendable and perfect for Toronto. They spent some time as the rumored destination-du-jour for Noel for a bit, mostly due to a hole in their roster. With Jared Sullinger injured, the Raps have turned to late first round pick Pascal Siakam as their starting power forward. The results have been…about what you’d expect for a guy who was considered a reach as the 27th pick in the draft and starting right away. Davis gives them a rebounder and energy guy, like former Raptor Bismack Biyombo, who is now in Orlando. Toronto sends flawed, but exciting swingman Terrence Ross to Philly, who is excited to see what he can bloom into. Even if he’s not the long term answer for the Sixers’ backcourt, he is more interesting than a logjam at center and would add much needed shot creation. (Napier comes to Philly to make the trade salaries work and Stauskas heads to his home country to clear playing time and a roster spot for Ross.)

Boston Celtics


The Celtics and Sixers have been making eyes across the dance floor for months now, if not years. Danny Ainge keeps drafting flawed guards. The Sixers have a pantry full of bigs. Sooner or later, they need to meet in the middle and make something happen.

The most logical trading is swapping two very good defenders who have had their ups and downs on offense. Noel gives Boston a rim protector next to Al Horford, and a fun new toy for Brad Stevens to play with. Plus, he’s from the Boston area. Smart isn’t a great fit on the court with Ben Simmons, given his inability to shoot effectively, though his defense is a valuable asset. It’s at least more valuable than what the Sixers can get out of three centers. It a’int perfect, though it’s better than the present situation.

Golden State Warriors


If the mighty Dubs have a weakness, it would be the ability to protect the rim. They clearly miss Andrew Bogut on defense and the combined efforts of Zaza Pachulia, David West, and JaVale McGee have left something to be desired. Noel would be a perfect fit on a team with shooting at every other position. He’d block shots, run the court, and dunk when the ball whips around to him. Don’t forget, Nerlens would fit perfectly in that fast moving Warriors’ offense, with his sneaky good passing ability.

As for the Sixers, you acquire a stopgap starting point guard this season, helping the development of Joel Embiid, plus a guy who should have been a first round pick in June’s draft. I had McCaw at #9 on my board and he fell to the second round. He’d be welcomed warmly in Philly.


Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at He has also contributed to, Rush The Court,, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to

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