The future isn't now for Noel or Sixers

Posted: July 25, 2013

THE FUTURE of the Sixers cannot help how God made him. But if there's one thing Nerlens Noel did not need, it was the slim-fit, tuxedo-style suit that amplified his skinniness.

But there he stood yesterday, finally, a month after a draft-night trade landed him in Philadelphia, his introduction to the city delayed by NBA trade rules and his own rehab schedule.

Noel was striking in blue. His narrow slacks with satin stripes disappeared under his tight coat, thin as a pipe cleaner with a high-top fade, impossibly linear. At 19, and at 6-11, he weighs 219 pounds. By the time he's 23, at the end of his contract, he could balloon to . . . what, 230?

Noel's leanness was an apt metaphor for what 76ers fans can expect.

Remember those 24-win Sixers from 1995, with Dana Barros and Clarence Weatherspoon? How about the next season, with 18 wins out of Stackhouse, 'Spoon and Vernon Maxwell?

That is what happens when you rebuild. That is what's coming.

But, to echo a person who is very close to new general manager Sam Hinkie: What alternative did Hinkie have?

He inherited a team with All-Star Jrue Holiday, role player Thaddeus Young, modest cap room . . . and mistakes Kwame Brown, Lavoy Allen, Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner.

Last month, the firm of Harris & Hinkie sold Holiday, the club's best player since Allen Iverson, to New Orleans for Noel at No. 6 and a first-round pick next year. Five picks later, they replaced Holiday with the selection of project point guard Michael Carter-Williams.

Josh Harris, the team owner and billionaire hedge funder, is accustomed to the pain and the risk of liquidation and reorganization. Sports fans are not.

To use Harris-speak, the team's most valuable tangible assets now are: a forward who might not play until the autumn of 2014; a guard who might take three seasons to develop; and a pick that will not be in the top five. Then again, neither of their two picks last month was top five, either.

Not among their assets: a coach. That last part matters the least. The team will be abysmal in the near future. Despite Hinkie's contention that his new coach will be long-term protected, whoever the Sixers hire is not likely to survive a couple of lottery-pick campaigns.

Rest assured, it will be at least three seasons before the Sixers sniff the playoffs.

Rest assured, it will even be longer before they contend.

Yes, Hinkie could have chosen to keep Holiday, with a freshly extended contract and a fondness for Philadelphia. Hinkie could have chosen to add Carter-Williams and make Holiday a shooting guard. That would have meant no Noel, no extra first-rounder next year, and, very likely, still no playoffs.

"I'm trying to . . . build something that is lasting," Hinkie repeated yesterday. "Special. With a capital 'S.' "

Super.

He can only hope his fan base is patient, with a capital "P."

As in, patiently waiting another full season while another big man nurses another knee injury.

As in, patiently waiting another two seasons while another big point guard attempts to cure himself of turnover-itis.

Noel tore the ACL in his left knee in February, and so his draft stock plummeted. A lock for the No. 1 overall pick before the injury, he fell to No. 6, where the Sixers dealt Holiday for him before taking MCW with their own pick at No. 11.

Without the injury, Noel never falls to the Sixers.

With the injury, and with his sense of style, Noel is the unfortunate victim of circumstance.

He dresses and coifs like the biggest Eagles disappointment in recent history, Nnamdi Asomugha. He shares a joint injury and a perspective with the biggest Sixers disappointment ever, Andrew Bynum.

Asked when he expects to return, Noel said, "When I feel I'm ready to come back, physically and mentally."

Bynum said the same thing last season. So did Derrick Rose, who declined to play for the Bulls after he was cleared by doctors.

Draft-night scuttlebutt held that Noel could return to full-scale practices by December and perhaps play for the team early next year. Hinkie will not commit to any return date.

For the past 4 months, Noel has been living in an apartment in Birmingham, Ala., where Dr. James Andrews' rehabilitation facility is located. He spends 6 hours a day at the center. Hinkie said he will routinely visit Noel in Alabama, but he never will push his prize to return before Noel and his doctors deem it best.

Hinkie said he will always protect his players thus; that he wants them to have "15-year careers," not abbreviated employments.

"Sam is just a genius," Noel said.

To be fair, that quote is out of context. Noel was addressing Hinkie's cleverness at landing him and MCW, since they were AAU teammates.

Noel couldn't score then, either.

Noel's allure lies in his ability to defend multiple positions, to block and alter shots. Hinkie called him a "rim protector," not a rim attacker.

Both admit that Noel needs to develop post moves and a jump shot.

Both admit that Noel needs to fill out, but both observe that, at 19, he has about 4 years of natural growth ahead of him, especially if he keeps eating as many as five meals a day. Noel cannot develop during rehab.

So, if Noel manages to play 20 effective minutes per game by the end of this season, it should be considered a bonus. If he plays 30 minutes a game in 2014-15, it should be considered a godsend.

If Noel becomes a factor by the autumn of 2015, the trade of Holiday will be validated. If he becomes a force by then, and if the extra first-round pick manages to contribute, the trade will be a Sixers win.

Hinkie believes he had no choice.

Now, his team's fans have no choice, either.

DN Members Only : The Sixers introduce a piece of their future.


Email: hayesm@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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