Why the Philadelphia 76ers Trading Nerlens Noel was Terrible

Feb 11, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) in a game against the Miami Heat during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Philadelphia 76ers won 117-109. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 11, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) in a game against the Miami Heat during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Philadelphia 76ers won 117-109. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia 76ers trading Nerlens Noel was a bad move, and Bryan Colangelo should be held responsible for the small return.

The following quote is from an article I wrote on December 2, 2016, suggesting the Philadelphia 76ers trade Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks for Andrew Bogut and a top 5 protected 2017 first round pick. On February 23, 2017, the Sixers traded Noel to the Mavericks for Bogut, Justin Anderson, and a top 18 protected first round pick.

"Under Mark Cuban’s ownership the Mavericks have valued centers that can play great defense despite their limits on offense. The Mavericks won their only NBA championship when Tyson Chandler was defensive player of the year. On top of that, they offered DeAndre Jordan a max contract during the 2016 NBA offseason before Jordan changed his mind about joining the Mavericks and returned to the Los Angeles Clippers.While Noel is unlikely to ever be as good as Tyson and Jordan, he can be a poor man’s version of them and the contract the Mavericks will have to give him as a restricted free agent in the upcoming offseason should cost them significantly less than Tyson or Jordan."

When I first heard the Sixers traded Noel, I was upset. Back when I wanted Noel traded, he had yet to play a single game this season and the Sixers had four wins and 17 losses. It has been over two months since writing that article, and the Sixers record has improved to 21 wins and 35 losses, and Noel was a significant part of the team’s improvement.

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The Sixers have won 14 of the 25 games Noel has played in, compared to 10 of the 38 games Jahlil Okafor has played in, the other player who likely would have been traded if Noel was not.

Due to Okafor being under contract for two more season after the 2016-17 season, and Noel becoming a restricted free agent this upcoming offseason and likely receiving a huge pay raise, it’s much cheaper to keep Okafor than it would be to keep Noel. And it’s understandable if the Sixers don’t want to spend a lot of money for a backup center, so trading Noel for a protected first round pick is okay, as long as the Sixers eventually get a first round pick.

What happens after the Mavericks draft in the top 18 is where the trade Bryan accepted and the one I suggested go in completely different directions.

If the Mavericks happen to draft in the top 18 — which is very likely to happen based on the current standings — the first rounder they’re giving the Sixers turns into a second pick in 2017 and 2018. In my suggested trade, the Mavericks’ top 5 protected 2017 first round pick would turn into a top 3 protected 2018 first round pick then an unprotected 2019 first round pick, if it didn’t convey two season in a row. My trade overvalued Noel, and I’m not blaming Bryan for not trading Noel for a potential lottery pick, but I do blame him for not walking away from the Mavericks’ deal and wanting to wait until the offseason try to trade him or see how much it would actually cost to re-sign him.

The above tweet is Sacramento Kings’ general manager Vlade Divac explaining why he traded all-star center DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, the Pelicans’ top 3 protected 2017 first round pick, and the Sixers’ 2017 second round pick.

Divac’s admitted that they already screwed up by not trading Cousins earlier and were afraid that if they waited, they would get even less for him, is the best explanation Bryan has for trading Noel for such a pathetic return, but even this thought process is flawed.

It’s true that Noel could leave the Sixers this offseason for nothing if the Sixers choose not to match a contract offer another team could give Noel, but there is no reason to believe the Sixers couldn’t have gotten a better offer from the Mavericks if they waited to free agency.

As I pointed out earlier, Noel is the type of center the Mavericks like and their need for a center is just as big as the Sixers’ need to get rid of one. It’s possible that the Mavericks trade, draft, or sign another center if the Sixers said no to their offer, but it’s also possible that after the trade deadline, draft, and most of free agency go by, the Mavericks still don’t have a solid center they like. Then, they could return to the Sixers with a better offer for Noel due to their lack of options.

The Sixers will have a lot of cap space this offseason, so they can afford to match any contract offer the Mavericks give Noel and could force them to trade better assets then two second round picks. Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban doesn’t want to tank, and feels obligated to field a competitive team as long as Dirk Nowitzki doesn’t retire, so there was a realistic possibility that the Mavericks would give the Sixers a real first round pick if Noel was the only center they could get with their limited assets.

Next: Did the Sixers Keep Okafor as Simmons Insurance?

I’m not guaranteeing the Sixers would’ve gotten a better offer for Noel had they declined the Mavericks’ offer, but I believe most good general managers would’ve been willing to bet two second round picks on the possibility.