Trading Jrue Holliday for Nerlens Noel was not about this season, certainly. Or really the next one. It’s about three years from now, five years from now.
If Philadelphia brought back Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and the rest of the gang the Sixers were a bottom-seed playoff team wining 41 games, give or take. They would be average, with no clear path to improvement through the draft or free agency.
Now the Sixers are going to be bad — but if you are going to be bad this is the year to do it. With Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon and others this is a potentially franchise-changing draft. Land one of them, pair him with a healthy Noel in a couple years and maybe you have something special building. That’s the plan.
With that, there is absolutely no rush to get Noel back on the court this season following the ACL injury that ended his season early at Kentucky. At his introductory press conference, Noel said he was working six hours a day to get back and GM Sam Hinkie said the team wanted to take its time. The amazing Dei Lynam was at the presser for CSNPhilly.com and had these quotes and comments.
“I just started doing layups,” Noel said of his current state of rehabilitation. His torn ACL was repaired in mid-February, and his projected timeline to getting back playing basketball looks to be around Christmas time or later.
“I run up and down the court,” Noel continued. “I do Ultra-G for cardio, squatting. I am really just doing a lot of rigorous exercise to build up my core and my hips so that injury prevention is less when I come back because I have stronger muscles around to keep the knees strong. It has been a long five months. I am happy to put in the work and I won’t stop until I am definitely able to come back stronger than before….”
“There will be someone on our staff asking the same question, probably me, every time, if what we care about the most is Nerlens’ long-term health and Nerlens having a 15-year NBA career, what will we do?” Hinkie said. “I will ask that every single time.”
If that means sacrificing some wins this year, so be it. Besides, that just means more ping-pong balls in the lottery. (I know the lottery doesn’t really work that way, but writing “more losses means more randomly generated number combinations” doesn’t really flow.)
It’s not going to be a pretty process for a year or two in Philly, but it’s a solid plan. We’ll see how it works out but there is a plan, even if we don’t have the slightest idea what this team will look like in three years.