The Sixers finished with the second worst record in the league this season, thanks in part to trading away veteran talent in Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes in exchange for rookies or future draft draft picks.
But they also didn’t necessarily field a lineup featuring the team’s best available players.
Nerlens Noel was selected sixth overall in the 2013 draft by the Pelicans, and came to Philadelphia in the draft night deal for Holiday. He was projected to go even higher, but concerns over a torn ACL injury he suffered lingered, and he eventually missed his entire rookie season.
It appears as though he could have played, however, based on comments he made in an interview with Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.
“I’ve been 100 percent for months now,” Noel told the Globe. “I feel great and continue to get stronger in all parts of my body, just continuing my growth really. I will be playing in summer games and summer league.”
This is where commissioner Adam Silver’s definition of the term “tanking” differs from the one held by the rest of us.
“My understanding of tanking would be losing games on purpose,” Silver said during All-Star weekend in New Orleans. “And there’s absolutely no evidence that any team in the NBA has ever lost a single game, or certainly in any time that I’ve been in the league, on purpose. And, to me, what you’re referring to I think is rebuilding. And I’m not sure it’s just a function of the collective bargaining agreement; I think there’s a balance with any team of the need to look out to the future and at the same time put a competitive product on the floor.”
The Sixers worked on developing Noel plenty, and head coach Brett Brown personally worked him out extensively before games on the main arena floor — an unusual practice for any NBA coach on game nights.
But it’s hard to argue that he couldn’t have used the time to develop more quickly during live game situations, and it’s almost certain that Philadelphia would have been more competitive had Noel been a part of the team’s late-season rotation — something which he himself said he was capable of, if in fact he really has been back to 100 percent for “months.”