Sixers' plan for Noel won't change

Nerlens Noel has been limited to light shooting drills. DAVID SWANSON / Staff
Nerlens Noel has been limited to light shooting drills. DAVID SWANSON / Staff
Posted: January 18, 2014

It wasn't exactly news that James Andrews thinks he did a fine job repairing the left knee of Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel, but someone close to the orthopedic surgeon felt it necessary to impart that information to the world this week, and that left coach Brett Brown to carefully explain the situation again.

Brown is nothing if not a quick study, and he learned from an earlier experience when he voiced the opinion that Noel probably wouldn't play at all this season and the organization preferred he leave fortune-telling to others.

"I was sent to media training school," Brown said. "I'm back from media training."

Noel, however, is not back from the surgery that followed a torn ACL suffered in February. Andrews repaired the injury in March, four months before the Sixers acquired Noel in a draft-day trade, and the projection at the time was that Noel would be playing by Christmas.

The Sixers have taken a more conservative approach - whether out of caution for their prospect or cynicism due to their actual goals this season, you decide - and until this week when he began some light one-on-one shadowing with coach Greg Foster, Noel's on-court work has been limited to standstill, one-handed shooting drills with Brown. (The good news is that if the NBA ever starts a standstill, one-handed shooting league, the franchise already employs the MVP. The bad news is that it is Brown.)

Meanwhile, the season has rolled merrily along on the way to 25-28 wins and a date with the vagaries of the draft lottery. The Sixers' other potential 2014 first-round pick, that of the New Orleans Pelicans, theoretically improved recently when Jrue Holiday, the player sent to the Pelicans for Noel and the draft pick, was lost indefinitely due to a stress fracture. The pick is protected only if it is among the top five selections, and the Pelicans shouldn't be that bad, so the Sixers figure to have two very attractive first-round choices this year.

That is the plan, and it is a good plan so far, and the plan does not include putting Noel anywhere near an NBA court, at least not until Brown has ample opportunity to school him on the finer points of not getting broken in two by some of the more brutish centers in the league. All of which was fine until someone close to Andrews, unprompted, said the good doctor has cleared Noel for all on-court activity and anticipates a possible return to game action in four to six weeks. That was definitely not in the plan.

"It's very clear he's moving forward. He's doing well, but timelines and that type of timeline . . . you know, we don't see it like that," Brown said.

Wonderful thing, media training school.

You can't blame the Sixers here. Everyone would like to see the kid who was averaging 4.4 blocks per game when he was injured, but he's 19 and there is no reason to rush it right now. There is no competitive reason and there is no medical reason and there is no developmental reason. Noel is a legitimate 7-footer, but he weighed 206 at the draft combine and the Sixers say he has put on barely 10-15 pounds since then. If he never had a knee injury, Noel would be having a rough entry to the league as teams physically tested him every night. As it is, almost a year removed from his last game, he'd be in a very difficult spot.

"We're just not going to recklessly put him on a stage and expect results. It's not fair to think he's going to go from one-handed shooting to guarding Tim Duncan in a six-week period," Brown said.

Privately, the Sixers would prefer that Dr. Andrews keep his timelines to himself. Other organizations have previously noticed that Andrews isn't hesitant to declare his work a success. He did so regarding knee surgery on Robert Griffin III, whom he also cleared to return to the field before the Redskins' opener against the Eagles. The information wasn't necessarily wrong - Griffin was fine, he just couldn't play without a brace or run as he could before - but it made the situation a lot more difficult for the Redskins to manage.

The Sixers are going to manage this one their way. There is no public outcry for Noel and no pressure on the organization to do anything but stick to the plan. Noel wants to play, which is a good thing, but he isn't going to play. Not this season. They won't say that, but I can. Media training school doesn't work on the media.

"Everything we've said is what it is," Brown said.

It is a season for Brown to do his best with what he has, and that isn't a whole lot. It is enough to carry out the plan, though, and that will happen, come health or high expectations from elsewhere.


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