The Nerlens Noel Trade In Review

Jan 24, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) passes against the Los Angeles Clippers at Wells Fargo Center. The Philadelphia 76ers won 121-110. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 24, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) passes against the Los Angeles Clippers at Wells Fargo Center. The Philadelphia 76ers won 121-110. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia 76ers turned heads by trading Nerlens Noel to the Dallas Mavericks at the trade deadline. Now, the question is whether or not it made sense.

Meh. That was the overarching feeling Thursday evening, as the Philadelphia 76ers — in lieu of weeks of anticipation regarding a potential Jahlil Okafor trade — went an entirely different direction. Rather than shipping off the embattled former third overall pick, the Sixers traded away Nerlens Noel, who was sent to Dallas for a return consisting of Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut, and a heavily protected 2017 first round pick.

That pick, barring an unforeseen and near-unheralded playoff push from the Mavericks, will be relegated to a pair of second round picks in 2017 and 2020. In addition to that, Bogut is largely expected to seek a buyout once he arrives in Philadelphia.

Not many of us saw this trade coming. With Noel playing some of the better basketball of his career — despite a career-low in minutes per game — the soon-to-be restricted free agent was thought to be a shoo-in to finish off the remainder of the season with Philadelphia. Not only has he been vastly outperforming Okafor, but his fit behind Embiid, in terms of not creating any significant systematic voids, is much stronger.

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Noel is a hound defensively, chasing down rebounds with impressive energy and possessing the type of mobility and shot blocking prowess that should yield quality production on that side of the ball for the foreseeable future. He’s among the league’s most underrated, and better, young bigs on the defensive end, and now provides Dallas with a center they can build around moving forward.

And, while the return for this trade seems outright deflating — which it was, for the most part — there is some reasoning behind it. With that said, though, you have to look a bit deeper than just the pieces involved to really get a feel for why this trade may have happened.

The reasoning behind the deal and where it went wrong:

First and foremost, a lot of this stems from Noel’s aforementioned status as a restricted free agent this offseason. Noel is in line for a hefty raise in pay, and that may be somewhat of a deterent for Bryan Colangelo and company in the front office. Assuming he stays healthy, Joel Embiid is the cornerstone of this franchise at the five spot, while Dario Saric and Ben Simmons figure to eat up playing time at the four spot.

If Noel, given the rising cap, is set to sign an extension in that 4-year, $80 million range — which is distinctly possible — it’s understandable for the Sixers to be looking to avoid shelling out that sort of deal considering he’d be a backup long-term. That’s a lot of money for somebody who doesn’t help them build as well as other players could for the same price, and the play of Richaun Holmes — a much cheaper option in his role — only compounds the reasoning behind getting rid of him.

The need to offload Okafor remained.

The problems, though, are still very real when analyzing the meat of this deal — and that starts with the fact that Jahlil Okafor is still on the team. Reports seemed to indicate that the Sixers still had deals on the table for Okafor, and offloading Noel shouldn’t have stunted their efforts in pursuing those.

Okafor’s value is substantially lower than Noel’s, and part of me worries that Colangelo was — to put it in layman’s terms — waiting for a deal that would never come. Jah’s fit, even without Noel, is virtually nonexistent in Philadelphia. He drags down the offensive fluidity in the second unit, and is the sort of defensive liability that can reverse some of the benefits that Embiid instills in the starting core.

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If Noel’s return was what is was, an Okafor trade wasn’t going to bring back any substantial value in it’s own right — and that’s okay. Getting what you can out of him is beneficial, both for him and the franchise moving forward. It’s gives Jah the courtesy of starting fresh elsewhere — especially after the hectic treatment he received leading up to the deadline and the professionalism with which he handled it — while freeing up more playing time for Richaun Holmes and a more sustainable group of players behind Embiid and Simmons in the frontcourt.

Okafor should have been dealt with or without a Nerlens deal, and that’s perhaps the most irritating part of this whole series of events.

The front office’s lack of awareness appeared obvious.

In addition to needing to still offload Okafor, this deal seems to hint at a severe lack of awareness in the front office. Not only did they hold off on better deals during the offseason, but they seemed to be caught off guard by the minimal leverage that they held by the time the deadline rolled around. With Okafor regressing in emphatic fashion and Noel relegated to a reserve spot, the latter’s stock was clearly hampered by that lack of playing time — even if he was still playing at a high level.

Teams, from the looks of it, where low-balling Colangelo by his standards — and that could mean his standards were set a tad bit too high. Reports indicated that they were making Okafor’s sales pitched based on his draft placement a couple years back. That’s a woefully misguided and immensely flawed approach, and could signal the desire for a return based on something entirely different from on-court performance. Most teams, especially in this analytical age, are able to see through a pitch like that.

Concluding an odd and underwhelming deadline

Trading Noel makes sense, but it simply wasn’t gone about in the correct manner. The front office seemed a bit off-base in regards to managing this frontcourt as a whole, and a general lack of preparation feels like a distinct possibility at this point. There are obviously factors that we don’t know about, and I’m not claiming to have inside knowledge on the front office’s decision making here. But this feels like a deadline that was marred by a lack of readiness, and one that — in hindsight — signaled a need for different management strategies since the first day of this campaign.

MORE NOEL: Why the Nerlens Trade Was Terrible

So, in short, the return isn’t the most disappointing aspect of the trade, but rather how we got here. The manner in which the front office handled this trade didn’t boost Noel’s trade stock, and thus we ended up with a package filled with uncertainty and under-developed talent — in return for somebody who will likely be getting a near-max contract this offseason.

I’m a huge fan of Justin Anderson. Even with the regression of his 3-point shot, his bulky frame, solid defensive instincts and overall effort on the court is something that Philadelphia fans should come to love. Despite the fact that his offensive game is going through some rough patches, he’s the type of all-out competitor that characterizes this organization, and I wouldn’t be surprised to the slightest degree if he plays a real role moving forward.

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There’s a difference, though, between being getting a solid piece in return and receiving ample compensation for what you sent out, and the Sixers were far from obtaining the latter. Even with Noel entering restricted free agency, there’s no doubt that his value should have — under the right circumstances — been higher. But, it wasn’t higher — and a lot of that is due to the front office’s handling of the situation.

Sure, Sam Hinkie put them in a rough spot roster-wise. But Colangelo didn’t do the right things to work themselves out of that rough spot, and thus this trade — despite having validity behind it’s reasoning — ended up being a disappointment above all else.